I don’t want to think about who is going to replace Jeter in 2015 right now. I don’t want to speculate how Jeter is going to perform this season, or how many days a week he’ll spend at short.
Are those valid concerns? For sure. Viable topics for a blog? Absolutely. But for the time being, please let me wallow in the realization that, as a Yankee fan, one of the most important eras in my life is coming to a close.
It was only a matter of time before the last member of the Core Four would announce his imminent retirement, for all intents and purposes vanquishing any hopes I or any other 31-year-old Yankee fan had of recreating the days of Joe Torre, the days when winning a World Series–or at least getting there–was an expectation, and your worst problem as a Yankee fan was figuring out if your boss would believe you were sick if you called out the day of the victory parade.
I can’t pinpoint the time I saw Jeter for the first time, but all I knew was that he was a thirteen-year-old female baseball fan’s dream. When he came up as a rookie, he was cute enough to entice my non-baseball fan friends to sit down and watch an inning or two with me, and talented enough to have my dad and brother glued to the screen every time he came up to bat, or dove for a ball in the hole.
I’ll never forget the day shortly after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series when a vicious rumor spread that Jeter was visiting a rival high school for the day. The rumor was unfounded (and completely untrue, of course) but when you’re fourteen you believe whatever you hear and use any excuse to act moody and sullen. Teen angst notwithstanding, no celebrity had ever had that kind of effect on me before; although I was a silly smitten teenage girl, there was something about Jeter that I knew would follow me for the rest of my life.
Throughout my baseball watching “career,” (roughly 1992 to the present, or the years I seriously watched baseball and didn’t have to ask someone to define a 3-6-3 double play for me) I have been privileged enough to see five world championships. If you’re a fan of almost any other sports team in modern times, you would tell me I don’t have much to complain about. And even if the Yankees didn’t win the ultimate title, they’ve had a shot practically every year. Jeter was, of course, an integral part of every one of those titles. He may not have ever been the literal “best” at anything, but was always in the middle of a rally. He made things happen.
There has been recent talk of where Jeter belongs on an all-time greatest Yankee list, but making decisions like that is akin to compiling a list of all your favorite foods. How do you rank Mickey Mantle versus Jeter? Or pizza versus buffalo wings, for that matter? There’s room on the menu for everything.
The thing is, everything Jeter did throughout his whole career, on or off the field, worked. And that includes his decision to retire at the end of this season. Jeter is not a “sort of” kind of guy. He doesn’t want to “sort of” help the Yankees. He doesn’t want to “sort of” play shortstop. If it’s not 100%, it’s not his style.
In his retirement announcement, he alluded to the fact that his injury-riddled 2013 season was anything but enjoyable for him, and that helped him arrive at his decision to retire. And even on his way out, Jeter is still doing things the right way. If his 2014 season resembles his 2012, he’ll be going out on top; if it turns out to be subpar, at least he’ll be calling it quits at the right time without much time to be seen as a has-been. It’s win-win.
For true fans, sports are more than just a game. Your team becomes the backdrop to your life. You can easily remember where you were and who you were with when historic things happen. Jeter has provided us with a seemingly endless list of those historic moments: the Jeffrey Maier home run, diving into the stands against the Red Sox, the flip play, his 3,000th hit.
So no, I don’t want to worry about future Captain-less lineups, or the real possibility of Jeter re-injuring himself this year, or the fact that on the days Jeter doesn’t play the field our double-play team will be virtual strangers to us. Not today.
All I want to do for the time being is watch montage videos of Jeter’s greatest moments and pretend we’re back in those days in the heart of his career, when he still had twenty, fifteen, ten, even five years to go in an illustrious career, instead of one.