There is an unmistakable power that comes from inevitability.
The end of a career is rapidly approaching, but, in truth, it has already arrived.
It is over. I’ve had to visit the stadium, sit in the stands, and explain to my two-year old daughter that this is the last time we will see one specific man in a Yankee uniform with our own eyes.
I haven’t watched every game, nor seen every “retirement gift” handed to one of baseball’s most beloved ambassadors. I turn on the television from time to time and I am numb to the score, the standings, the successes and the flaws of the 2014 New York Yankees.
I only watch Derek Jeter.
Anyone who has spent years cultivating a love of any one particular player, team, or sport, understands the passion involved in being a fan. There are times when it is fun, and times when we openly cry. If you’ve reached this level, you have learned one unavoidable fact: it is a commitment.
Players come and go. Owners uproot franchises and relocate. Greed seeps into our devotion.
Yet still we stay.
Even without the enhanced media of today, warnings have always been issued regarding worship of athletes. “They are not good people.” “Athletes are human, too.” “Be careful.”
For all these concerns, the advice was usually ignored. As expected, the unfortunate lesson was learned firsthand in the vein of one ‘off-the-field issue’ or another. Almost every time.
The exception, of course, was Derek Jeter.
“Not Jeter.” It was the successful retort to nearly any debate regarding the impact of any one athlete in society. Moreover, Jeter was the rare unification of a winning argument for all things we consider sacred in sports.
“What other New York athlete could compare to Jeter off the field?” Maybe Chad Pennington; where’s his ring?
“Who would you want batting in the ninth inning of a tie game?” How about Barry Bonds; yes, but could you actually root for him?
“Every single athlete is flawed and, eventually, they will let you down.”
In the end, we will always reflect fondly upon what has passed. We will remember good memories more than bad, and we will romanticize moments into lore. We will thank those for the championships they have provided and bid farewell to those who depart.
This time, however, we will be grateful that, for once, our love was not given in vain.
When the Yankees begin the 2015 season, it will be the first in 20 years without ‘The Captain.’ Forget the infield or lineup, the hole left by Jeter’s absence will be felt rippling throughout baseball circles across the county.
Suddenly, there will be no more exception to the rule. There will be no go-to answer. There will be no man I could point to and explain to my soon-to-be two children that there exists an athlete behind whom we can throw our unconditional love.
There will be baseball, but never as I have seen it.
As difficult as it is to cram twenty years of a marvelous career into one final season of remembrance, it is that much harder to provide a fitting tribute to the man responsible for a lifetime of baseball-watching memories.
Derek Jeter helped turn a love into a passion, and to be passionate about anything is to have found a reason to love more. This offering is a mere rock on the pile.
For the championships, joy, tears, memories I was able to share with my family, examples I will be able to pass down to my children, highlight reel plays, class, and, above all else, respect, there is only one thing I can offer to the man immortalized in my eyes.
Thank you, Mr. Jeter.