Here's a basic truism: in sports today you can either be a beater, a cheater or a Jeter. And since there is only one Derek Jeter, the other two categories are getting awfully crowded lately.
But here's also the thing: Derek Jeter is a total stranger to virtually all of us, as are most celebrities, no matter how forthcoming or public they are.
During the game last night Yankee announcer Michael Kay kept trying to figure out what Jeter was thinking or feeling and that to me perfectly captured what the event was all about.
What it was not about was Derek Jeter because only Derek Jeter has the 24-hour job of trying to figure out who Derek Jeter is. Him and a few other people with perhaps a wandering lazy eye or two who have spent all their life savings at Lids and actually have Yankee themed bedrooms. And weddings. And funerals.
So what the hell was going on and why was I crying last night like my purse chihuahua died? Wait. Did I say that out loud?
After the game, Jeter admitted that rather than weep in front of his peers, he instead retreated to a bathroom stall to collect himself, he held back his man tears on the field and did everything that he could to mask his true self.
The life lesson here? There is crying in baseball and in my humble opinion, it would have been even more heroic to show it. Instead, the caveman rules ruled and boys were once again taught to keep it in and do their manly man job like a MAN.
But that did not stop any of us from privately weeping like middle-eastern widows in our beer stained secret bromance man caves.
But what were we crying for?
Derek? Uh. No. The guy's a total stranger plus I think he will have a very nice life cherry picking top fashion models like rings at Tiffany's and pretty much live the Michael Jordan royal way of life (he even gets to be smug and superior in underwear commercials).
In other words Derek will live on the fumes of his own MYTH, LEGEND and BRAND and we will all go to our graves still knowing virtually nothing about him.
Who are we crying for? We are crying for ourselves.
My friend Liz made the point that we New Yorkers have a rarified standard that is totally emblematic of where we live. We like our local heroes to be bigger than life with the powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men---especially those who were bought by that magnificent shopping spree sports owner George Steinbrenner.
Baby wanted the biggest and shiniest toys and baby got what he wanted, or baby threw a temper tantrum until he got it. And we all got to play with then in our legendary sandbox in the Bronx.
But even before him, we grew up with MANTLE, MARIS, RUTH and GEHRIG. And George bought us JACKSON, RODRIGUEZ (naw I'm just kidding) and of course we got the four living MT. Rushmore heads of JETER, POSADA, RIVIERA and PETTITTE.
Forget the Steinbrenners. By birthright we feel not only the illusion of the pride of ownership and but all the exclusive bragging rights that go with it as well.
We rhythmically chant Derek's name and he obediently tips his cap right on cue. It's good to be the king.
But we're only playing at being rich and powerful.
You see, baseball is where men go to feel like little boys and where little boys go to feel like men. It's where women get to swoon like little girls and little girls get to feel like one of the boys.
The truth is everyone, both players and spectators alike, are the exact same age at a baseball game.
Everyone comes dressed for the party, wearing a jersey and cap, and virtually everyone carries a glove (or an imaginary one) and everyone quietly dreams of snatching a foul or homerun ball from the air, which is the closest that we will ever get to catching a falling star. Baseball is where outsized dreams often, not always, come true right before your very eyes.
Baseball has always been there and will always be there. Just like the statues and buildings and bridges that we revere. It's our communal ritual. It's our shared national faith.
It's magic made visible.
It's Neverland where baseball boys are supposed to stay forever lost and are never, ever supposed to grow up.
Until, they suddenly do.
First comes that Andy Pettitte first blush of errant gray hairs, followed by a myriad of mysterious aches and pains and inevitably, the litany of sustained injuries that will do permanent body wreckage.
It's the effects of Kryptonite in slow motion.
Meanwhile, in our own lives, there are marriages and divorces and illness and disappointing children and layoffs and dashed hopes and dreams that leave us beyond bewildered and battle scarred.
So we keep coming back to the park, because we want to believe that you can go home again, over and over again, until, despite the odds, you win the game.
But then our hero finally crumbles and falls.
And that is beyond tragic and unbearable to us because in this day and age of sheer terror, in a world where in order to access the future all you have to do is simply stand in line, with thousands of faceless, nameless others, waiting not for bread, but Apples, there are virtually no heroes left. Name five in five seconds. You can't.
I grew up with tons of them. I thought in real life that my baseball heroes all smelled like Topps gum.
But sooner or later that bubble bursts. Just like it did last night.
And when it does, it is just a little harder to go on, because in the end, who will be there to rescue us?