Saying a moment was “scripted better than something out of Hollywood” has become a pretty cliché description, but let’s be honest for a moment. Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium really was just about the perfect script to end a legendary career.
The multi-decade shortstop for the New York Yankees wrote the final chapter in his long farewell odyssey of a season on Thursday night. A season that has been, especially lately, filled with plenty of critics who have (perhaps rightfully so) grown irritated by the seemingly endless amount of tributes to Jeter at every final stop along the road.
Whether you agreed with that train of thought, or were a diehard Jeter supporter for the past two decades, or maybe thought he was simply an overrated ball player who benefitted from being on some super-powered Yankees teams, you had to respect the man from a professional standpoint. I certainly do, and I’m not even a big baseball fan.
In an era of baseball when one superstar after another has been caught or admitted to using steroids to help further their careers, Derek Jeter has stood apart as one who has been controversy-free. This was especially difficult considering he played his career in New York City, one of the biggest media markets on the planet, always on the lookout for any slip-up by a celebrity that can be reported on.
He also went about his business with a huge example of just the opposite kind of person on the same team in Alex Rodriguez, the steroid-using, home run personal glory chasing, ego maniac who has been a long-time display of what a lot of baseball fans dislike about the sport.
Jeter navigated all of those potential pitfalls and came out with his reputation intact while carving out a very distinguished career that will see him finish with at least the sixth most career hits in all of baseball history.
So on Thursday night, September 25, 2014, I found myself watching Jeter’s final home game at a sports bar in Maine after having just finished the rehearsal dinner for a friend of mine’s wedding the next day. As an example of how not a big baseball fan I am, I didn’t even know that was the night of Jeter’s final home game… I mistakenly thought it was the next day.
Nevertheless, I instantly found myself rooting for the guy to produce one more bit of magic, as much for himself as for the fans who have been behind him all these years. The first at bat of his I saw was a weak, swinging strike out on an inside pitch, a reminder of how this season has been one of the biggest struggles in Jeter’s career.
The next time up though, was a seemingly perfect set-up for a typical Jeter moment. With the game tied at 2-2, Jeter stepped to the plate met by thunderous applause for what very well could have been his last at bat in Yankee Stadium. He hit a low, but hard-hit groundball to short that looked immediately like it would be close to an inning-ending double play. Instead, the throw to second was botched and two runs scored on Jeter’s fielder’s choice. It wouldn’t go down as a hit, but it still seemed like as good a way as any for the script to end on, with Jeter hitting the ball that brought in the winning run.
The Yankees took a 5-2 lead into the top of the ninth, but when they failed to protect it, giving up two Orioles home runs to tie the score, it set up one more chance for Jeter to step to the plate. His teammates were even nice enough to set him up with a runner on second and only one out.
The captain didn’t disappoint, lacing a first pitch fastball for a single through the gap between first and second to send Antoan Richardson racing for home. Nick Markakis’ throw was not in time and Richardson slid in to give the Yankees a 6-5 win and Jeter his perfect ending… a walk-off hit in his final home game.
I stood up and clapped as soon as I saw the contact, and there was never any doubt in my mind that Richardson would be safe at home; it just wouldn’t have been right if he was thrown out. This was met with a round of booing from the rest of the room filled with Red Sox fans, but even a few of them admitted it seemed like the right way for Jeter to go out.
Derek Jeter won’t be playing in the field when he closes the book on his outstanding 20-year career in the majors, electing to play as the designated hitter in the team’s final road trip of the year to (ironically) Boston. He wanted his last game at shortstop to come in front of the home crowd.
So here’s a tip of the cap to Mr. Jeter, forever a class act, as he plays for the final time on Sunday.