He’s won 5 world championships, made 13 All-Star game appearances, won 5 Gold Gloves, and in 2009, was named Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year.” But beyond the awards and honors, Derek Jeter has been proudest of the uniform he wears — that of the New York Yankees — an organization he has represented with class and dignity for 20 years.
Not bad for a kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan who dreamed of playing shortstop for the Yankees growing up. Also not bad, a stat sheet stuffed with numbers that will almost certainly make him a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee 5 years from now.
The career line on Jeter — a line he will be adding to in this, his final year — tells the story of the consummate professional and teammate.
At Bats: 10,634
Batting Average: .312
Hits: 3211 (8th all time)
Home Runs: 256
Runs Batted In: 1262
On Base Percentage: .381
He was not a big home run hitter — except when the Yankees desperately needed one. He was never a big RBI man either (although part of the reason for that was because he hit 2nd in the batting order), but will be remembered as one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time.
Simply put, Derek Jeter is a winner. And as he played his final opening day at Yankees Stadium, he showed why:
“I have emotions,” Jeter says, “I just hide it. I’ve just been pretty good trying to control my emotions. You have feelings. There are a lot of “wow” moments when you’re in New York, but for me, I always felt it was easier for me to play if I try to control my emotions.”
Jeter, playing in the final home-opener of his Yankees’ career, struck out in his first at-bat, and maybe those emotions got the best of him.
REUNITED: The Core 4 reunite before opener
“You’re human,” Jeter said. “Everyone has emotions. Everyone has feelings. Especially here, we played in so many big games, so many special games throughout the course of my career. I’ll be nervous. I’ll have butterflies before this game starts, but I do that all of the time.”
This game, of course, was different than any other Jeter has ever played.
It is the last home opener of his career at Yankee Stadium. He was reunited with the rest of the Core Four before the game — the nucleus that won five World Series titles together. Jeter caught a ceremonial first pitch from Mariano Rivera. Jorge Posada caught Andy Pettitte.
“He’s the last one standing now,” said Rivera, who retired after last season with Pettitte.
The celebrations and tributes won’t just stop this day, Girardi says, but continue the entire season.
“I think it will be a love-fest, and appreciation-fest,” Girardi says, “people trying to soak it all in. I think people will show their appreciation, no matter what, just what he’s meant to the Yankees.”
And despite the perception, Jeter corrected reporters Monday, he will fully appreciate every last moment of this season, including all of the tributes and ceremonies.
“I will enjoy it,” Jeter says. “Every city I go to, every game I play, I will enjoy it. But at the same time, I get the fact that I have to play a game. I have to play a season.
“Not enjoying it is the wrong way to put it, but balancing it is a better way to put it.”
Whatever accolades Jeter gets from fans around baseball this season, he will deserve. They used to refer to some players as a “credit to the game.” You don’t hear that saying much anymore, what with drugs, assaults, steroids, and rude behavior on the part of many players. The game has not only changed, but the player’s attitudes toward it have also been altered. There isn’t the same respect and reverence for the past that there once was.
But Jeter proved that he gets it every time he put on the pin stripes and stepped onto the most iconic ballfield in the sport. For the last 20 years, on one of the biggest stages in sports, Derek Jeter rose to the occasion. And the game is better for it.