Derek Jeter's 3000th Hit: The Captain's Final Stand
On a 3-2 curveball by Rays’ pitcher David Price in the 3rd inning of the Yankees 5-4 victory, the Kalamazoo Kid became the 28th member of the 3,000 hit club, with a home run to left field befitting of a final act on Broadway (he joins Wade Boggs as the only member of the prestigious club to do so on a round-tripper).
But for weeks on end the captain’s quest seemed like a one-man sojourn that simply would never end. Between a DL stint and the negative press he received from just about every walk of life, the march into history seemed more like a death sentence than a celebration.
There is no explanation for why the five-time world champion’s grandest individual accomplishment was simply brushed aside throughout the journey. His leap into the annals of baseball immortality on Saturday afternoon should have warranted a collective sense of excitement, even outside of the new Yankee Stadium.
But it didn’t.
Instead the ride, regardless of your allegiances, felt like sitting in the back of a beat-up sedan waiting for a seven-hour car trip to end. Even as the chase came down its final turn (with a 5-for-5 day at the plate and the game-winning RBI), the feeling was one of melancholy relief instead of pure joy.
From the minute he put on the pinstripes in 1995, Jeter has always done things the only way he knows how. He has always played the game the right way, treating every play, whether it’s a blowout in April or a nail-biter in September, as if it’s the deciding moment in a Game 7 of the World Series. And most of all, he has always maintained and at times even restored the great sense of tradition and respect that comes with wearing a New York Yankees’ uniform.
The caveat of course, is that he is not a Gold Glove caliber shortstop anymore, playing second fiddle to the likes of Paul Janish and Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s not going to bat .320, with 17 HRs and 80 RBIs anytime soon. And there likely won’t be many more diving grabs in the stands or jump throws in the hole between third base and shortstop in the final years of his career.
But if Derek Jeter’s greatest flaw is that he’s getting long in the tooth, then we all need to look beyond Father Time and appreciate what the man has done for not only the Yankees and Major League Baseball, but the sport as a whole in the United States.
In an era dominated by steroid users and foreign born imports, Jeter has been this country’s greatest ambassador and model for consistency. He’s a once in a generation athlete, the kind you pay extra to see in person, not because of what he does necessarily, but how he does it.
He doesn’t possess the mammoth power Ruth had, the chip on his shoulder Gehrig played with, the grace of DiMaggio or the charisma and flare of Mantle, but if Saturday solidified anything in his Hall-of-Fame career, it’s that Jeter deserves to go down as the greatest Yankee ever to play the game.
His stats, when all is said and done, may not outwardly say as much, but his career on and off the diamond (2009 Sportsman of the Year) deserves the utmost praise and adoration. He did things his way, and in doing so went against the conventional thinking of a time period marred by Congressional hearings and salacious tell-all books.
Maybe understated professionalism doesn’t capture audiences when repeated year after year? Or maybe Jeter is just a victim of his own success and non-controversial persona?
Whatever the case may be, there is still time for all the cynics, Yankee haters and Jeter bashers to step outside the colors and teams they bleed for if only for a few moments. Just because No. 3000 has been officially etched into the record books, doesn’t mean Jeter’s final walk into the sunset should go unnoticed as his latest milestone essentially was.
The greatest lesson learned from Jeter’s pursuit is that sooner rather than later, his career will come to a close. You might not root for the team he plays for, you might prefer a more gregarious character or wish he fell in line with the flashy, power-hitting shortstop mold. Nonetheless, Yankee fans shouldn’t be the only ones reveling in his 16-year masterpiece.
It’s a career that humbly pays tribute to the ideals that made baseball America’s pastime in the first place- one that, sadly, we might never see in our lifetimes again.
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