Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thanks, Captain

The inevitable has come to pass. Derek Jeter has announced that 2014 will be his last year playing for the New York Yankees. The last of the storied "Core Four" will hang up his cleats for the last time at the end of this season.

Perhaps no more universally loved and respected player in MLB, Jeter will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, six years hence. After a year lost to injury, Jeter will make 2014 his farewell campaign.

These two plays, maybe the most famous of his career, are notable for his savvy and fearless DEFENSE. Recently, there has been a sabremetric backlash against Jeter, with numbers crunchers statistically deriding his defensive skills. These two examples clearly show that as much as statistics can tell you about a player's performance, the game is still played between the lines, not on a computer screen.

But, even more than individual plays, it is the entirety of Jeter's career that baseball fans, and in particular, Yankees fans celebrate. Joe DiMaggio famously said " I thank God for making me a New York Yankee". Yankees fans are thankful the Derek Jeter played his career in the Bronx.

Derek Jeter is the embodiment of Yankees traditions and values. As the captain of the team, Jeter became part of a line that stretches back to Lou Gehrig and beyond. The Yankees, as professional sports most successful team, and Jeter, the symbol of the quest for winning and excellence, were meant for each other.

Derek Jeter, like all great success stories, didn't do it alone. As a young player for the Yankees, he was the fortunate recipient of the opportunity to play on a team that was rising to the pinnacle of baseball, with great players and role models like Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinz, Joe Girardi, and the guidance of   Manager Joe Torre and Coach Don Zimmer. They, and others, helped to create the atmosphere where winning was expected, hustle was required, and playing the game the "right way" was what was done.

There is a story Jeter tells about the time a young Derek Jeter was working out with Don Mattingly early in his carreer in Florida, during spring training. After finishing their drills, the players were heading back to the clubhouse for showers. Even though there were no spectators, and the practice fields were deserted, Donnie Baseball began to run towards the dugout, Jeter asked why he was doing that, there being apparently no fans or coaches around. Mattingly told the young player, "On the baseball field, always give your best, you never know who may be watching." That valuable lesson clearly informed the outstanding career Yankees fans have been lucky enough to see for twenty years. The torch was passed from Captain Mattingly, to what would eventually become, Captain Jeter.

Now, time has had it's way as it always does. For nearly twenty years, Jeter has been the shining example of playing the game the right way. Hopefully, for the sake of baseball fans everywhere, there are other young players that will learn the lesson from Jeter, that he learned long ago.

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