I have always been, and will always be, a diehard Red Sox fan. I stayed up past my bedtime to watch all seven American League Championship Series games versus the Yankees in 2004. I have had nightmares about Aaron Boone. I was there when the Sox clinched the pennant last October. And, above all, I have developed a healthy hatred for pinstripes.
Given all of this, what I’m about to say might seem blasphemous: I’m a big Derek Jeter fan. Jeter is a man who for so many years has captained my rival team, has been responsible for heartbreak on more than one occasion and yet has still managed to get me on his side.
And I’m not the only one. To true baseball fans, my confession is the opposite of blasphemy. It’s hard to respect the game and not respect a player like Derek Jeter.
Last week, I had the chance to go to Yankee Stadium for the first time to see the Sox take on the Yankees. The night was oppressively hot, the kind of hot that makes your legs stick to the blue plastic seats even in the late innings. The game was pretty inconsequential: The Red Sox have been sitting comfortably in last place virtually all season, and the Yankees are watching their wild card hopes slowly fade as September runs out.
The Sox raced out to an early lead in the first and continued to pile on the runs with two home runs in the third. Jeter, and most of the Yankees, looked rather pathetic in the first few innings. Jeter came to the plate twice to a roaring home crowd, and was only able to muster two weak ground outs to the shortstop.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees showed some signs of life. They loaded the bases and then the Red Sox staff walked in one run. With the bases still loaded and two outs in the inning, Jeter came to the plate to the exuberant cheers of the hometown fans.
If real life worked like the movies, Jeter would have pointed to the left field fence, dug his spikes into the box, and blasted a long home run. He would have been the quintessential hero like he has been so many times in his storied career.
Real life isn’t usually like the movies, but sometimes it can get close. Jeter stared down the pitcher, settled into the box, and rolled over an outside pitch to produce another weak ground ball to the Red Sox shortstop. The crowd let out a collective groan, dismayed by the consistent mediocrity that Jeter has produced this year.
And yet, on one of the hottest nights of the summer, in a game that didn’t really matter, the Yankees’ forty year old captain hustled his way to first, beating out the infield grounder and keeping the inning alive.
The Red Sox went on to win the game easily, but that’s not what I will remember. What I’ll remember is watching a man who has dedicated himself professionally to a game for two decades play it the right way.
Jeter has given Yankees’ fans and baseball fans at large many of these moments, both small and large, over the course of his 20-year career. But that is not all: Jeter has also made enemies into fans, rivals into believers. When he hangs up his cleats come October, baseball will have lost something great. Number two will never look the same.