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Column: So long, Captain

Staff Columnist

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 22:02

“Now batting for the Yankees, number 2, Derek Jeter. Number 2.”
This introduction may be heard for perhaps just 81 more times in the Bronx, after the Yankees captain and shortstop announced in a Facebook post on Wednesday that he plans to retire after the upcoming season.

Injuries have been nagging Jeter for years, and the wear and tear from what would be a 20-year career is something that only he knows about. If he thinks it’s time to walk away, it can only mean that he has emptied out his tank.

“I could not be more sure,” Jeter wrote. “I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball.”
Just like that, baseball hearts were broken.

Funny how someone you’ve never met can affect you so much.

For 19 seasons, Jeter has been the consummate professional on and off the field. He played the game the right way and carried himself with dignity and respect, in the media center of the world nonetheless. He is everything a captain should be.

A once-in-a-generation type of player, Jeter is a role model who transcended the sport and remained one of the few bright spots in what has been a rather dark period for the game.

His illustrious career, filled with memorable moments, is one that cannot be matched by many.

From winning the Rookie of the Year in 1996, capturing five World Series titles, to “The Flip” in 2001 and hitting a home run for his 3,000th hit in 2012, Jeter’s flair for the dramatics is often better than some Hollywood writers.

But it’s not as if Jeter wanted the attention, at least he never seemed like it. He’s a player who is simply excellent at what he does and therefore, the scrutinizing from the public came naturally.

A former Yankees beat writer told me that Jeter is the type of person who, if given the choice of being either a celebrity or a baseball player, he would choose the latter in a heartbeat. That’s what separates him from other players like Alex Rodriguez.

But like they say, all good things must come to an end.

Last year, it was Mariano Rivera who made the same decision to announce his retirement prior to his final season, and proceeded to be showered with gifts everywhere he went.

Jeter, on the other hand, will not. Not because he doesn’t deserve it, it’s because he wouldn’t accept it.

In a statement released by MLB commissioner Bud Selig, he said the league has had “no finer ambassador” than Jeter and that he is “one of the most accomplished and memorable players of his – or any – era.” So if there’s one player who should receive that type of honor, it’s probably him.

Instead, Jeter will most likely allow the Yankees to throw a ceremony during the last homestand like they did for Rivera, and maybe even let the Red Sox piece something together in his final regular season game at Fenway Park on Sept. 28, but Jeter’s decision to make the announcement at the time he did, is nothing other than a final resolution for him to walk away and avoid any temptation of returning for another run after the season ends.

When it does end, however, whenever that may be, the baseball world will say goodbye to another all-time great, who is destined for Cooperstown in 2020.

I already spent nearly $300 on a ticket for his final home game on Sept. 25, but I also know it will be worth every penny. Getting the chance to participate in Jeter’s final roll call from the bleachers and watch him walk off the field of Yankee Stadium for perhaps the final time, what I will get in return is a memory that will last a lifetime.

“I know they say that when you dream you eventually wake up,” Jeter wrote in his post, and for someone who dreamed about being the Yankees shortstop as a kid, he has “never had to wake up” from it.

So when the time comes for him to hang up his cleats and take off the pinstripes for the final time, perhaps he and Yankees fans will realize just how surreal the past two decades have been.

 

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