Toronto, Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis: it didn’t matter where we live or what colours we normally support. Everyone was a fan of Derek Jeter last night.
The long-time captain of the New York Yankees brought his farewell tour to the All-Star Game in Minnesota yesterday where he was rightly treated as baseball royalty. If there were any doubts about Jeter’s presence at the game, he quickly erased them with the first defensive play and the first plate appearance for the American League squad.
As a diehard fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ve often dismissed Jeter’s talents. They don’t fit my perfect view of the world where Toronto sits on top and New York festers at the bottom. Fortunately, no amount of hometown ignorance can deny the fact Jeter is one of baseball’s all-time best players both on the field and off of it.
I can’t be bothered to count the many times Jeter has made a phenomenal defensive play against my beloved Jays or punished one of the team’s pitchers for a mistake – the number of possibilities seems endless – but I’ve slowly come to understand and appreciate his special place in the world of baseball.
For one night, everyone who loves this game, even the people who play the game, were fans of Jeter. We saw this in the endless tributes paid to Jeter by the fans and the players alike. The greatest display of appreciation, however, may have come from Wainwright, who stepped aside from the pitcher’s mound at the very start of the game, leaving his glove there, to see and thank Jeter through the eyes of a fan.
We can talk about what makes Jeter so special. Five World Series titles is a great place to start. The fact he’s the Yankees’ all-time leader in hits doesn’t hurt either. Notwithstanding these accomplishments, I think it’s his constant professionalism and all around genuineness that really push him over the top.
In an era where many of his colleagues and even some of his teammates resorted to performance enhancing drugs, Jeter opted to win the old fashion way through hard work, determination and patience. He’s the defining player of our generation and he was one of the few genuine superstars in baseball during its darkest period.
I understand that few people can play baseball at Jeter’s level, but we’ve all come to appreciate him for this simple fact. There’s no one like him.
When the season finally ends, Jeter will have earned his place in baseball as one of the sport’s all-time greatest players - a truly unique individual who helped to grow and heal the game regardless of whether you watched him play from the seats in the Bronx or jeered him from the seats somewhere else.
You are baseball.