FORT MYERS, Fla. — He is, let’s face it, the Yankee you can’t hate.
He is the all-time opponent.
He is the guy you wish played for your team.
He has all the numbers, better than most shortstops in history, but he has those intangibles.
He is Larry Bird. He is Pete Rose, the player, not the gambler.
He was Dustin Pedroia before Dustin Pedroia.
Pedroia said he “looked up to Jeter” but then added, “but then again I look up to everybody.” But think about the Pedroia-Jeter comparison. All heart and soul. They play every game like it’s their last. Every ounce of effort is left on the field. The great instincts. The great feel for the moment.
“He’s the best,” Pedroia said.
He is all that is good in baseball. He is Bud Selig’s biggest ambassador. He should have been promoted more as the face of the baseball, because through the steroid era, through all of the muck and mire, he stood as the epitome of pure.
Jeter was part of five championships, the linchpin of a core of extremely memorable Yankees. He is right there with Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Mantle, Berra, Ford, and Rivera.
If you are a Red Sox fan, it has to feel silly booing him. Booing what? His greatness? His class? His talent? His hustle? His determination? His success? Oh, yes, the pinstripes.
He kept out of the New York tabloids. He remained a single man who protected his private life in a city that demands that it be an open book. Did Jeter ever say the wrong thing? Did he ever do anything to disgrace the Yankee name? Or baseball for that matter?
“In the 21-plus years in which I have served as commissioner, Major League Baseball has had no finer ambassador than Derek Jeter,” Selig said in a statement. “Since his championship rookie season, Derek has represented all the best of the national pastime on and off the field. He is one of the most accomplished and memorable players of his — or any — era.”
The worst you can say about him is that he is vanilla. He loathes controversy. He is the anti-Alex Rodriguez.
It’s ironic isn’t it that as Jeter announced he was retiring after the upcoming season Wednesday on Facebook, to join his compadres Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams in retirement, that A-Rod can still return to play in 2015?
It’s ironic, too, that his last regular-season game is scheduled to be played at Fenway Park Sept. 28. As soon as word hit that Jeter would retire, tickets for that series were in great demand almost instantly.
“I will remember it all: the cheers, the boos, every win, every loss, all the plane trips, the bus rides, the clubhouses, the walks through the tunnel and every drive to and from the Bronx,” Jeter’s post read. “I have achieved almost every personal and professional goal I have set. I have gotten the very most out of my life playing baseball, and I have absolutely no regrets.”
There aren’t many people who can say that. But in Jeter’s case, it’s true. The Yankees won a championship when he was a rookie. He was part of winning three straight and four out of five. He won another in 2009.
That he rehabbed ankle surgery after being limited to 17 games in 2013, means he will go out similarly to Rivera, who missed all of 2012 and then wanted to make sure he came back to finish his career on a high note.
Jeter may not be vintage in his final season, but he will be true to himself. This reporter has been saying most of the winter that Jeter should move to third base and allow the Yankees to sign Stephen Drew to play shortstop.
That could work if Jeter, who will turn 40 on June 26, spent some time this season as a DH.
Jeter is an extremely proud man. He achieved some of the greatest feats in baseball history. He enters his final season with 3,316 hits, a .312 career batting average, and 256 home runs. He’s the all-time Yankee in games played, at-bats, hits, and stolen bases.
Think about that.
“Through it all, I’ve never stopped chasing the next [World Series title]. I want to finally stop the chase and take in the world,” he said.
He will take in his farewell tour as well. He will be honored wherever he goes. Go ahead and boo him Boston, but we know you don’t mean it. And I know you won’t boo him as he ends his career in a ballpark he never quite embraced.
In 136 games at Fenway he has a .263 average with 13 homers and 68 RBIs in 589 at-bats for a .694 OPS. But he had big hits at big moments against the Red Sox and made great plays in the field.
Who could forget his dive into the Yankee Stadium stands July 1, 2004, against the Red Sox?
On a night when Nomar Garciaparra was out of the lineup with a sore Achilles’, Jeter showed why his legacy would perservere long after Garciaparra’s career was over.
Jeter went far to catch Trot Nixon’s slicing pop up in the 12th inning and his momentum drove him head-first into the stands. He emerged with his face bloodied and the ball in his glove. As he went to the hospital for observation, the Yankees rallied to beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in 13 innings.
There was “the flip” in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS vs. Oakland with the Yankees down, 2-0, in the series which showed Jeter’s great athleticism and his instincts to be at the right place at the right time.
A’s first baseman Jeremy Giambi tried to score from first base on Terrence Long’s double when Jeter retrieved an errant throw from right fielder Shane Spencer while running hard away from the plate and flipped it accurately to Posada, against his own momentum, to get a flabbergasted Giambi.
This is stuff that Jeter is made of.
We’ll get to witness it one more season.
You may boo him because he’s a Yankee, but nobody who truly loves baseball could ever hate Jeter and the purity of the game he represented so well for so long.
Well done, Derek Jeter.