Milestones are funny things. In sports, we take these numbers that otherwise mean nothing and turn them into something grandiose. In any other context, they're essentially meaningless. Taken out of a major league ballpark, 61 home runs is nothing more than an enormous waste of time. But as fans, we're conditioned to cheer for milestones as if they were our own, when in reality they're simple reflections. They're reflections of summer afternoons cheering for complete strangers; Reflections of tiny reference points that we use to associate with memories from our own real-life experiences. It's here that we can interpret these moments however we may choose, even if they represent someone else's conquest. So for a 25-year-old Yankees fan, Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit on July 9, 2011 was another dog-eared page in a catalog of palpable mementos.
Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs went to 12 consecutive All-Star games starting at the hot corner. I can tell you this because I had watched Boggs' final appearance in the midsummer classic from an unfamiliar living room three months after my parents separated in 1996. Boggs was my favorite Yankee, because truthfully, he was the only Yankee I could recognize when I first began watching baseball at my own discretion. Before then I was simply my grandfather's favorite game day accessory, perched in front of a television screen on an old cot to parrot game analysis from Bobby Mercer. Wade Boggs and Danny Tartabull -- for reasons that continue to elude me even today -- were the players that compelled me to watch Yankees baseball. It was a time when Buck Showalter's name was more recognizable throughout New York City than any of the original core four.
Derek Jeter's career hits count had always felt somewhat more personal, though. It was that same year that Jeter recorded his first season in the majors. During a span of 12 years as I grew from a pudgy child to a grown man who had discovered himself, lost himself, and then found himself all over again, following Jeter's march to 3,000 was something everyone closest to me had expected years in advance by some vague phenomenon of a collective subconscious.
For my family, the Yankees were the only common ground we felt comfortable exploring. Even casual baseball knowledge was enough to draw every one of us into something together. My only brother and I are separated by five years, which is enough time to turn siblings into strangers. I can tell you with confidence that the reason we're as close as we are today is attributed to the influence of the game. Because he was born deaf, my passion for music was unable to translate into something I was capable of sharing with him. More baseball was the only way to create something between us. We see eye to eye on absolutely nothing else.
It was that summer two years ago that I drove to Long Island from my apartment in Queens, New York to visit my grandparents. Thanks to an overheating Jeep Cherokee, my plans for a quick hello turned into an all-day project as I vehemently searched for a way back into the city for the matinée game against David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays. For Yankees fans, this was history. But it didn't quite hit me that I was right where I was supposed to be until after the first run through the batting order. My back against a covered sofa, my grandfather's pockets comically sagging down from under the frays of his jean shorts. My grandmother crossed her legs, her feet in slippers, as she sat in an armchair closest to the television. There she squinted through her glasses with puckered lips as if she were studying a road map. "There he is," she warned as he walked up to the plate for his second at-bat of the afternoon. "Can you believe he's finally going to do it today?"
I took a sip of water.
In an instant, it was there and then it was gone. A home run over the left field wall that somehow meant more than I thought it would. We sat in silence afterward, the three of us, as the sun beat down from over the trees and through the window in front of us. We all just smiled.
I knew then that I had to text my brother. He was visiting from Rochester at the time.
"He did it. Crazy shit. Let's go get a tattoo."
Without hesitation, he texted me right back before I could think of anything else to merit a bonding experience.
"You're fucking crazy. No."
It was perfect.
Do you have any memories you'd like to share that tie in with baseball? Leave them below, or find me on Twitter at @jaysaintNY.