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BRONX, NY – Three hours before the first pitch, Derek Jeter was putting up his usual stoic display when he faced a crowd of media normally reserved for playoff games. There was little that came out of the few minutes he spoke to many unfamiliar faces other than he did not know about playing in Boston, he did not know how he would feel about playing in a meaningless game, and that he hoped the weather would clear.
It turns out the real excitement was saved for the game that under normal circumstances would be the Yankees playing out the string and the Orioles trying to improve their playoff position, a sentence that was often reversed due to Jeter.
Jeter wasn’t sure how he would react, at least that’s what he said. It turned out that Jeter was riding the tidal wave of emotions.
“These last few weeks have been very difficult and it’s gotten more and more difficult as we’ve gotten to the end,” Jeter said. “There was a couple of times where I almost lost it. I really thought I was going to break down, out-of-body experience is the best way to put it.”
There were nearly tears on the drive up to the Bronx and when teammates presented him with gifts. There was the pounding heart hoping that the ball would not get to him.
It would have been a satisfying way to go out with an RBI double and reaching on an error that scored two runs. And that’s what it seemed to be, which was fine for Jeter.
The fans sensed it with the loud “Thank You Jeter” chants. Then chants turned into shock when David Robertson gave up two home runs. Then shock became the realization that Jeter was due up third in the bottom of the ninth.
So from shock to realization and anticipation all in a matter of mere seconds where one thought was crossing anyone’s mind “Of course Jeter’s going to get a hit. All that was needed was to get a runner on, move him into scoring position and allow Jeter to do his thing.
One pitch later, Jeter did his thing, a single to right field. It was the same type of dramatic as the home run for his 3,000th hit, the home run that made him Mr. November, the flip play, and countless other plays and the type of moment that makes you say “Of course he did that”
“I wouldn’t have believed it myself,” Jeter said. “Everyone they dream of hitting a home run in the World Series or getting the game-winning hit, but I was happy with the broken bat. I was happy with that being the ending but I’ll take this one.”
“I think it’s fitting because you think about all the big hits that he’s had in his career and all the things that he’s done to help this club win championships and divisions,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s been here since the run, the run that started in ’96 and I don’t think there’s a more fitting way to end.”
Suddenly anticipation turned to pandemonium, the kind of reaction that can overlook a team missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. Emotion had taken over from reality as he was embraced by teammates and former Yankees Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Joe Torre, a group that with Jeter has a combined 29 World Series rings.
The ending was perfect in every way and so was Jeter’s nearly 20-minute postgame press conference where he allowed people to see beyond the stoicism.
There had been some talk about being “Jetered out” with the gifts from the retirement tours, the commercials for Nike and Gatorade and the speculation about how Girardi would end Jeter’s last home game. Then Jeter delivered a moment that made us realize why all of this had even started in the first place.
“I wanted to take one last view from short,” Jeter said. “I was trying to take a last view in the top of the ninth and then they tied it, and I thought I would have to go back out there. I basically just said thank you, because this is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and not too many people get an opportunity to do it. It was above and beyond anything I’d ever dreamt of. I don’t even know what to say. I’ve lived a dream, and part of that dream is over now.”
The dream may be over and magical ride for Yankee fans may be over, but there are the memories and his final hit at Yankee Stadium was the fitting and most appropriate ending to the kind of plot that even a seasoned movie producer might have difficulty believing.
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