Jeter All-Star Fanfare Evokes Nostalgia and Uncertainty for Yankee Fans
There was no shortage of emotional moments during Derek Jeter’s final All-Star Game Tuesday night. Standing ovations during both at-bats. A riotous swan song when Alexi Ramirez replaced him in the field in the fourth inning. Nike’s “Respect” commercial, moving enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most devout Red Sox fans.
What’s left to say about Jeter that hasn’t been said ad nauseam? A class act all the way, on and off the field. Never been ejected from a game in his twenty-year career. Young All-Stars like Troy Tulowitzki and Brian Dozier wearing number 2 as a tribute, talking about the first time they met him with the same giddy look on their faces that Jeter displays when he talks about the first time he met Hank Aaron.
In fact, Jeter’s career has been so devoid of controversy that the media framed Adam Wainwright’s innocuous hints about piping a couple of pitches in the first inning as scandalous. (Guess what: even if he did, nobody cares.)
The 14-time All-Star had a single and a double with a run scored, and had Yankee fans rooting for him to win the MVP of the game. That accolade eventually went to Mike Trout, who was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, as the American League claimed the game and World Series home field advantage.
Despite the palpable Jeter-centric atmosphere—or maybe because of it—there was something a bit unnerving about watching the game as a Yankee fan. It was almost as if the baseball gods were speaking directly to us with about as much sympathy as you might expect from a Seinfeld character:
Welp, enjoy this moment because it’s all you’re going to get for a while. Think you’re going to the playoffs this year? You’re delusional. Look around. You guys used to have five, six players here at the All-Star Game. Now, all you’ve got are Jeter and Betances. Yeah, yeah, Tanaka’s supposed to be here, too. But he’s not, is he? Nope, he’s hurt—just like everyone else you’ve got! You Yankee fans think you’re so special. Just wait til next year, when the entire Core Four is completely gone. Yeah, that’s right—you better enjoy Joe Buck’s voice and the Fox Sounds of the Game now, ‘cuz you sure as hell aren’t gonna hear them in October!
So it begins. Jeter’s final All-Star Game was just the next occurrence in a long queue of lasts: last Opening Day at-bat, last Subway Series appearance, last regular season at-bat…last postseason at-bat? Or has that one already come and gone? In which case, our last image of Jeter in October would be Mr. November being carried off the field with a broken ankle.
It’s possible that, since Jeter was the last lingering presence of the modern Yankee dynasty, the Yankees will sink into oblivion over the course of the next several years. There have already been intimations that this is what we should expect in the years to come: missing the playoffs last season, the remainder of CC Sabathia’s career in jeopardy, although he’s still owed a crapload of dough, or Brian Cashman’s failure to make a move for prime trade bait pitchers this close to the deadline.
This is why the All-Star Game, a game many fans and players view as irrelevant, antiquated, and unnecessary, was a must-watch for Yankee fans this year. It may be the last must-watch for us for quite a while. Who will we be rooting for at the Midsummer Classic in 2015? Will Tanaka be starting like he should have been this year, or will we be politely clapping for the underrated reserve named by the staff just so the Yankees could be represented as per MLB’s guidelines, while we wait for our ace to recover from Tommy John surgery?
I realize this perspective may put a damper on Jeter’s big day, but if anything, it’s a testament to his impact on Yankee fans over the past two decades. Jeter’s numbers this year are solid, but certainly below expectations for him in his heyday, yet not only did no one question if he deserved to be there, but the evening was completely constructed around the league’s tribute to him. It was reminiscent of last year’s homage to Mariano Rivera.
It occurred to me, as I watched Jeter’s contemporaries flank him with congratulations, that it may be quite some time before any player has the kind of influence he’s had on the league, Yankee or not. It may be quite some time before there’s another player who has the ability to be literally show-stopping.
It’s easy to get depressed by these “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” musings, but I try to stop myself from getting too despondent and remind myself that I’m lucky to have shared in the winning tradition pioneered by Jeter.
Five championships. Anything that happens from here on out is just gravy.
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