On Sept. 26, 2013, I sat in the stands in Yankee Stadium and listened to the crowd roar. The crowd wasn't celebrating a game-winning home run or a no-hitter. Instead, it was celebrating a career. Closer Mariano Rivera thanked over 50,000 fans that night for their cheers in the bottom of the eighth inning. It was a moment of pure collective effervescence that I will never forget. This year, we say goodbye to another Yankee great, shortstop Derek Jeter. Fans of all ages could be spotted with a “2” on the backs of their shirts all over the country. Jeter’s play and attitude toward the game made him a loveable guy that fans adored.
Through thick and thin, Jeter always hustled, ran hard and played well. He dealt with the harsh New York media like a professional—always giving reporters his time and giving their questions quality answers. He stayed out of trouble—keeping his face on the back of the paper, not the front.
Jeter took the field in 1995 after shortstop Pat Kelly was injured. Batting a mere .250, the Yankees demoted him back to the minors. In 1996, Jeter led off the batting order on Opening Day—beginning a career that will be written about for years to come.
Jeter’s classy demeanor, consistent play and leadership earned The Captain all of his fame and success. He has tattooed pinstripes to the hearts of youngsters everywhere—including my own—who have been spoiled by successful Yankees teams led by The Captain.
He inspired young Yankees fans to root for the Bronx Bombers with unforgettable opposite-field singles to right field and unbelievable finesse plays. Every fan has seen Jeter scoop up a grounder and make a perfect leaping midair throw to first base. This became an everyday occurrence at Yankee Stadium for fans taking the train into the Bronx to see Jeter play for nearly 20 years.
Jeter will make his final plate appearance at Fenway Park in Boston on Sunday Sept. 28. One of the few baseball meccas left, Fenway is also the home of the Red Sox—the Yankees biggest rival. Despite the rivalry’s occasional bitterness, he will be sure to get a tear-soaked standing ovation.
I will never forget his dive into the stands on July 1, 2004 at the old Yankee Stadium against Boston. Jeter flew into the stands to grab a pop-up just outside the field of play. He came out bloodied and swollen, but he had the ball. Despite having to leave the game, the Yanks rallied in the bottom of the 13th inning, winning 5-4. Jeter put on a show of pure dedication to baseball, the fans and, most importantly, the team. The next day, I begged my mom to buy me my very first Jeter jersey.
I’ve been to dozens of Yankees games in my life. Although Thursday night’s game is the one game I would never want to miss, Geneseo is a bit of a hike from East 161st street in the Bronx. What I recognize, and what fans of all sports should, is this—Jeter is the most humbled athlete of our generation.
All athletes should look at him as a role model. What he did on the field—and more importantly off of it—will put him in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Whether he takes some time off from the game for a while, pursues a front office job or whatever else he could do, The Captain will go into Yankees history as the best player that Generation Z ever saw play the game.