Goodbye Derek Jeter

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

On Feb. 12, Derek Jeter announced that the upcoming season will be his last in the MLB.

For over three-quarters of my life, Derek has manned the shortstop position for the New York Yankees. There, he has made one clutch play after another, run out every routine groundball to second base and served as the de facto favorite player for every young Yankees fan.

It’s difficult to quantify just how much Derek has meant to me over the years. I refer to him by first name as if we’re old friends, recall plays he’s made as if I was on the field with him and have narrowly avoided speeding tickets on more than a few occasions in order to make it home to see his late-game at bats. Although I’ve seen him play hundreds of times, I appreciate the Yankee shortstop more and more every time he takes the field.

Yankee fans my age have lived through five Yankee World Series wins and seven American League pennants, and it’s hard to imagine any of it without the Yankees’ all-time hits leader.

Six-year–old me watched in awe as Jeter helped the Yankees sweep the Braves to claim their third World Series title in four years; eight-year–old me sat on the edge of my seat at Yankee Stadium in 2001 when he hit a walk-off home run to win game four of the World Series, making him Mr. November; and three years ago I cheered as he became the second player in MLB history to record his 3000th hit on a home run. Ask me about the most memorable moments of my life and there’s a good chance I mention the Captain’s name more than a couple times.

The Yankees are one of, if not the most, hated teams in sports, but even in acknowledging my bias, I find it hard to believe that this dislike extends to Jeter. He’s a class act on and off the field, and it’s difficult to think of a player, past or present, that better exemplifies “playing the game the right way.”

In an era of Major League Baseball tainted by steroid use, Jeter has stood as a model citizen. Often juxtaposed with fellow superstar teammate Alex Rodriguez, Jeter is known for his uncanny ability to stay out of the spotlight. Like A-Rod, Jeter has dated a laundry list of Hollywood actresses, but none of his relationships have endured the public ups and downs that his steroid-using teammate’s have.

Only a few instances come to mind when I think of Jeter’s public missteps. One came in 2002 when Yankee owner George Steinbrenner criticized Jeter for staying out late partying. The two resolved the minor feud by appearing in a Visa commercial together that concluded with the two congoing at a New York night club. The day A-Rod makes light of his errors in that fashion will be a sure sign of the apocalypse.

The fact that the man who may be the most popular person in New York City has almost entirely avoided controversy is mind-boggling. With hundreds of millions of dollars and a gaggle of cameramen following me everywhere I go, I’d be on the back page of the New York Post every Sunday morning.

Following Jeter’s retirement announcement, dozens of current and former professional athletes sang his praises, thanking him not only for his play on the field, but his attitude and hard work off of it. “Always aspired to be the player he was on and off the field,” superstar outfielder Mike Trout tweeted. Judging by the 3,058 retweets, that’s a sentiment shared by many.

Jeter enters this season with 3,316 career hits, good for 10th on the all-time list, and even a mediocre season should catapult him into sixth place. He’s a first ballot hall of famer, and if there was ever going to be a unanimous selection, it’d be him.

Seeing long-time Yankee closer Mariano Rivera pitch his last game in 2013 was hard. Watching Derek Jeter’s last time in a Yankee uniform will be even tougher. There will never be another player like him, and all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy the precious few games he has left.