On May 29, 1995 Derek Jeter took the field for the New York Yankees for the first time. He was the sixth overall pick in the draft three years prior. Justifiably given his draft spot, the Yankees had lofty expectations of him. But no one would have predicted what he was to become -- for either baseball or the New York Yankees (or me).
In career spanning over 19 seasons Jeter has amassed five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, 13 All-Star appearances, a Rookie of the Year award, 3316 hits (most in Yankees history and currently 10th all-time) and, most importantly, five World Series Rings.
While the hardware Jeter earned is nearly unparalleled, his impact transcends his accomplishments on the ball field. He embodies everything that it takes to be a legend: marvelous statistical achievements, unforgettable epic moments and exquisite off-field persona.
For many years, Jeter was, and still is in a way, the face of baseball. He was my generation's Cal Ripken Jr., always keeping his head down and playing for the team. And in turn, his tremendous play and sportsmanship earned him the exclusive prestige of the Yankee captaincy.
Well, after the 2014 season Jeter's historic career will be coming to an end.
While it may seem melodramatic, as soon as I caught wind of the Captain's announcement to retire, tears formed in my eyes; the rest of day was ruined. For me, and likely many other teenage and 20-year-old Yankee fans, Jeter represented a childhood role model. For my generation, he means just as much as Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth meant to the young people of their respective generations. And the Kalamazoo native is as worthy as any to have his name associated with the legends of Yankees-past.
Especially in an era in which athletes are being paid exorbitant amounts and are often elevated to celebrity status, Jeter has always maintained an unequaled coolness and humility. There were never major stories of his sleeping around, drinking or doping. His public behavior always remained nearly perfect or flat out spotless. In addition, this was true Jeter all the way. He never had to try to be a well-regarded teammate and figure because he naturally was one.
Who can replace Jeter as the ideal baseball competitor?
I honestly do not know. And part of me believes that there may not be anyone like him in a long time or ever again. Yet if there is to be another Jeter or Ripken figure, John Doe must have phenomenal work ethic, tremendous loyalty to a franchise, charisma and a genuine modest demeanor.
I admit that because I grew up idolizing Mr. Jeter. I am biased in my opinion, but to have someone with such a copious amount of finesse and talent both on and off the field is something that really appears in an athlete once in a generation. I recognize that my childhood hero has certain shortcomings (i.e. statistically he is not the greatest defensive shortstop of his time), yet he will be remembered more for his tremendous accomplishments rather than his inadequacies. Furthermore, his desire to win and clutch ability are unquestionable.
His legendary moments go on and on: the flip play, Mr. November, diving into the stands against the Boston Red Sox, leadoff home run of the first game of the 2000 World Series, 3000th hit home run and on and on and on.
He is a legend, no doubt about it. He was undoubtedly the face of five World Series championship teams, his sport and the role model athlete. The MLB will miss him. The fans will miss him. I will miss him.