MINNEAPOLIS — Spine-tingling. That’s what it was.
Forget you’re a New Englander and you hate the Yankees. Forget Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain, was the all-time Red Sox enemy and nemesis.
You’re a baseball fan, and you have a pulse, and if you have any sense of the moment and because Jeter is one of the greatest players in the history of the game, you allowed yourself to savor his final appearance in an All-Star Game, Tuesday night at Target Field.
It was like 1999 at Fenway Park.
You didn’t need to be a Red Sox fan or a Ted Williams fan to appreciate the moment when All-Stars gathered around a golf cart where Ted held court and where players such as the late Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken, wouldn’t leave the side of the greatest hitter ever.
Maybe people get tired of these season-long tributes, and Jeter is the kind of guy who hates the attention. But after Jeter played three innings of the American League’s 5-3 win, going 2 for 2, and took the field for the fourth, the game was stopped. And your heart kind of did as well.
Jeter was replaced by Alexei Ramirez, and Jeter’s AL teammates gathered in the middle of the field and exchanged hugs and handshakes. Jeter made his way to both dugouts, where he proceeded to show his affection for the remaining All-Stars, one by one.
As Sinatra’s “New York! New York!” played in the background, Jeter drifted off into the AL dugout.
“It’s a moment that I’m always going to remember,” Jeter said. “I appreciate [Red Sox manager] John [Farrell] doing that for me. “It was a special moment, unscripted. The way the fans treated me . . . these are fans from different teams.”
Jeter doubled to right off St. Louis’s Adam Wainwright in the first inning and scored on Mike Trout’s triple. Wainwright said he grooved his pitches to Jeter, then took it back after the game.
“I was gonna give him a couple of pipe shots. He deserved it,” were his original comments. After the game, Wainwright claimed his words were misconstrued and that he misspoke.
Jeter, who praised Wainwright for his gesture of staying behind the mound applauding, didn’t seem to care.
“He grooved them? The first one was a cutter down and away, he assumed that I would swing. He didn’t groove the first one. The second one was a 98 [miles per hour] two-seamer that stayed down really good . . . naw, I don’t know. If he grooved it, thank you. You still gotta hit it. I appreciate it if that’s what he did.”
Wainwright took a beating on social media. His manager, Mike Matheny, said, “I know that has been completely blown out of proportion.”
Commissioner Bud Selig, who also is retiring, said earlier in the day of Jeter, “You couldn’t have written a script like this. He’s just remarkable. How lucky can this sport be to have the icon of this generation turn out to be Derek Jeter?”
There was the Red Sox’ Brian Butterfield, who served as the American League third base coach, who was basically responsible for turning Jeter into a good defensive shortstop in instructional ball in Tampa after Jeter had committed 56 errors at Greensboro, N.C., during the 1993 season.
Butterfield was a Yankee coach back then. He taught infielders and his project in the Instructional League that season was to improve Jeter.
Mr. Butterfield, you did too good of a job.
“It’s hard to project with young players,” Butterfield said. “But I do know this, at a very young age in the Yankees system there were a lot of players who admired him. The younger players gravitated to him. The older players gravitated to him. There were a lot of coaches who thought an awful lot of him. He looked like a baby Doberman in his early days trying to catch ground balls, but he’s worked so hard. He’s a great athlete. He’s a great defender. Great hitter.”
Butterfield said it had been some 20 years since he had hit Jeter grounders, but he did it Monday in infield practice. Butterfield quipped that he was nervous because, “I didn’t want to hit him anything with a backspin that would eat him up. I didn’t want to embarrass him. I made sure to hit him ones with a little topspin. It was fun, though.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see another Derek Jeter,” Butterfield said.
It seldom happens a coach sees the fruits of his labor 20 years later.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say they want to emulate how he plays the game,” Butterfield said. “The one thing they should watch is how hard he plays the game, and for how long he’s played that hard. He has never let up on a routine ground ball running from home to first. The way a guy runs the bases speaks to me a lot about his character.”
Jeter has mutual respect for Butterfield. I asked Jeter if Butterfield has reminded him what he did for him and Jeter responded, “He doesn’t have to remind me. It’s good to be in same clubhouse with Butter because he had a huge impact in my career and I’m grateful to him. Butter is fun. He’s got a lot of energy. He knows a lot about the game of baseball. I’ve enjoyed my relationship with him.”
There were testimonials about Jeter that if tied together would get you to the West Coast and back.
“I felt the focus should be on everyone who is in this game,” Jeter said. “For the players to do what they did, for them to do that, much better than if something has been scripted.”
I asked Red Sox clubhouse manager Tommy McLaughlin, who ran the visitors side for many years, what about Jeter?
“You just wanted to do anything you could for him. So appreciative of everything. The best,” he said.
Jeter said he’s never stopped to think why people speak so highly of him.
“I never sit around and think like that,” he said. “People like me because of this? I try to be respectful to everybody I deal with, especially the players I play with and play against, the fans, the media. I don’t give you guys everything you want all the time, but I try to be respectful. But I don’t sit around and try to figure out why someone respects me in return.”
Yet one by one the players showed him so much respect.
“It makes you feel good,” Jeter said. “This is my 18th full year and parts of 20. For me it’s gone by quickly. I feel like I’m young.
“A lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re playing a game. So when guys say they grew up watching you, it’s kind of hard to digest because I still feel like I’m young. Anyone who has respect and admiration for the way you’ve performed in your career, it makes you feel good.”
I asked Jeter what he would miss about his career.
“This,” he quipped as he looked at the sea of media around his locker. “I’ll miss all of it. I’ve been doing this since I was 5 years old and playing baseball. I’ll miss the competition, but the time has come.
“It’s the end of the road for me,” Jeter said.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.