City Sports Report

Derek Jeter’s era of change

New York Yankees Captain Derek Jeter plays final games in pinstripes (Photo by Marc Rasbury)

By Jason Safford

Imagination, determination and perseverance were the defining characteristics of Ernest Hemingway’s character Santiago, who loved the New York Yankees Joe DiMaggio. He admired his grit and determination. Had Santiago lived to see Derek Jeter, perhaps the old fisherman would have another Yankee to revere. Then again, Santiago’s story is one of grinding out a living, something few can relate to in this modern era of change.

New York Yankees Captain Derek Jeter plays last series at home (Photo by Marc Rasbury)

New York Yankees Captain Derek Jeter plays last series at home (Photo by Marc Rasbury)

When Derek Jeter first stepped onto the field as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees, very few of us had cell phones. Even less of us knew anything about the Internet and we did not think email or texting would be a common way to communicate. Newspapers were how we got our information, paper was not recycled and the climate was of very little concern. Gas prices were low, our cars were big, and we had no consideration for the future of change.

For much of our humanity, we get the privilege of having things that we enjoy end well before we are ready to part with that feeling. Whether it is a warm summer day or a performance by a great athlete, appreciation for the moment often happens after its zenith. Yet in this rare case, we can make every effort to enjoy an athlete in his final days on the field, still playing at the highest level at his position, continuing to make tough plays look effortless. The Captain has captured this so magnificently in his final moments as a Yankee, we can only reflect on what has changed during his outstanding career.

There were no PED scandals when Derek Jeter started his career. America was the remaining superpower of the world, and there were no wars to fight. Steve Jobs was not working at Apple and nobody was googling anybody. Baseball was recovering from disappointing its fans by the most egregious strike of the century, canceling the Fall Classic in 1994. The Yankees had not won a championship since 1978 and George Steinbrenner had a fast ax on managers up until Derek. But all of this changed.

Soccer was not recognized as an American sport in 1994 even with the World Cup played on our shores. Twenty years later, in 2014, this year America rooted for soccer as though it was the only sport. Our enemies back then were dictators of countries where no democracy or freedom existed for people. Today, we fight enemies without countries and vote to protect the freedom of our democracy. The Kyoto Protocol was not even established in 1995. Today, a new protocol is needed to battle the changing climate.

Very few people outside the Yankee organization knew how special Derek Jeter was and what a change he could be to the game. There were many other shortstops that were considered to be better than him when he started, and he was often criticized for what he did not produce, not what he did on the field. But what Derek Jeter never did was complain or make an excuse about his performance. He went out every game with the same zeal and passion to play that exists with him now. His love for the game has become contagious over the past 20 years.  Only now do we realize what a marvelous gift he has given us all.

Like Santiago, Derek goes about his job without fanfare or concern for the accomplishments of his counterparts. He acknowledges that greatness is possible for anyone, but he keeps his focus on his own tasks, his challenges and his responsibilities to his team and organization. Going out further in the sea than the other fisherman, Santiago dreamed of catching a big fish that he could bring home to feed many people. Derek made his career on stretching his team further into the playoffs every year by making unfathomable plays, getting timely hits and extending himself in every physical way possible.

Baseball, of all the games and sports that are available to entertain people, most reflects our personal experience of working life. It is a grueling season of 162 games that spans more than half a year.  With that schedule, you get everyday physical wear and tear. Bad hops, hanging sliders, missed tags, poor slides, and broken bats are not unfortunate breaks but everyday factors that change a team’s attitude, moral and destiny as they march through the season. Very few players can play at a high level of consistency with so many negative factors surrounding their performance. Derek Jeter continues to enjoy that privilege even as his last at-bats are quickly approaching.

Jeter is enjoying a Hall of Fame career while still playing.  With every hit, every catch, every tag, every run scored, he passes another milestone, sets another record, and overtakes another player in the annals of baseball history and lore of the game. What Jeter has accomplished, like Santiago, came on the magnificent journey home. Though sharks may have eaten Santiago’s massive fish, he fought brilliantly and with undeniable valiance in an effort to give the people a great feast.

There can be nothing lost upon us as we reflect upon what Derek Jeter brought home to us – five World Series championships and a lifetime of wonderful stories about a true class act in the industry of athletics, where a rapacious need for self-aggrandizement is too often supported by league executives. Mr. November has fought past all the sharks and challenges surrounding him. When he finally takes off his cleats for the last time, laying his glove to rest for good, we will continue to look at the gap between second and third base, waiting for his gleaming grin to signal the game has begun. Only then will we realize the majesty of the moment. Santiago may have loved Joe DiMaggio, but everyone now loves Captain Clutch.

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