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Wilcox: The legacy of Derek Jeter (Feb. 13)

| Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wednesday was the day I hoped would never come: Derek Jeter announced he would retire after the 2014 season, making this his last year in pinstripes.

It’s a rather weird experience, knowing these will be Jeter’s last 162 games. It’s something like watching an elderly relative as his or her health declines. We all knew this day would come, as, for the past few years, we have painfully watched his once-sound defense deteriorate, his bat speed slow down and his injuries mount.

Knowing, however, doesn’t make it any easier when the day finally does come.
Jeter is not dying, of course. He is only retiring, even if it feels more like the former to fans of Jeter, the Yankees and baseball in general.

It is only so heartbreaking to see Jeter go because of the impact he left on the game and his fans. Derek Jeter is the ultimate All-American boy, and his professional career looks like it was scripted from a fairy tale.

Jeter was just a scrawny teenager from Michigan when he was drafted sixth overall by his favorite team, the New York Yankees. In the minors, he teamed up with Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, a group that would collectively become known as the “Core Four” and lead the Yankees back to prominence.

As a rookie in 1996, Jeter was the Yankees’ starting shortstop on Opening Day, becoming the first Yankee rookie to start at the position in the season opener since 1962. He went on to be unanimously named AL Rookie of the Year and won his first World Series.

Jeter won three consecutive championships from 1998 to 2000, giving him four titles in his first five years as a pro. He was part of the 1998 team that won 114 games and is widely considered one of the best teams in the history of baseball. In 2000, he was named MVP of both the All-Star Game and the World Series, the first time any player accomplished the feat in the same season.

Jeter gave New Yorkers something to smile about when they so desperately needed it after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He led the team to its fourth straight World Series appearance and earned the nickname “Mr. November” for his walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 4 after the clock crept past midnight to make the game the first ever non-exhibition played in November.

In 2003, Derek Jeter was named the Yankees’ 11th captain. He is one of only five captains to have played for the Yankees his entire career, and he is the longest tenured captain in team history.

Jeter won his fifth championship in 2009. Along the way, he has accumulated the most hits (3,316), stolen bases (348), games played (2,602) and at bats (10,614) in Yankees history. He also earned 13 All-Star selections, five Gold Glove awards and five Silver Slugger awards.

Besides all the numbers, what is most sad about Derek Jeter retiring at the end of the season is that, for all Yankee fans born in the last 20 years — myself included — Jeter is the Yankees.

Derek Jeter is not just some talented baseball player; he is a symbol of excellence and served as a true role model when the game so desperately needed one. Derek Jeter represents more than stats, accolades and even championships. Jeter represents our childhood. With Jeter gone, we will have lost the last remaining — and most important — connection to the glory days of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Somehow, it feels like when we lose Jeter, we lose the Yankees.

Such was his impact, not just on me, not just on Yankee fans, but on all of baseball.

So, when will that fateful day finally come?

It will be Sunday, Sept. 28, in undoubtedly ESPN’s featured primetime game. Fittingly, it will come against the defending world champs and the Yankees’ fiercest rivals: the Boston Red Sox. There will most likely be a special pregame ceremony honoring Jeter, and he will surely receive multiple standing ovations.

How is this different than any other star in his last game, you ask? Surely, any team would do this for its undisputed leader and captain in his final game.

The difference is this game will be played in Fenway Park.

You could take away everything you know about Derek Jeter ⎯ all his championships, hits, All-Star Games, Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers ⎯ and the fact that he will receive a standing ovation from his most-hated rivals tells you everything you need to know. Boston fans, who hate everything New York and especially those damn Yankees, do not hate Derek Jeter; they respect him.

That act alone is all that needs to be said about Derek Jeter.

Contact Alex Wilcox at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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