Derek Jeter wasn’t sure what to expect. He knew the Red Sox would have a pregame ceremony Sunday to honor his 20-year career in Major League Baseball with the Yankees, but he didn’t know beyond that.
“It was hard to envision what would happen because this is a place where we’ve been an enemy for a long, long time,” Jeter said at Fenway Park after the final game of his year-long farewell tour. “For them to flip the script this last time coming here, it made me feel extremely proud and happy that I was a part of this rivalry.”
Now he has a part of the Green Monster, a green metal sign that reads “R2SPECT” in white writing. He has farewell wishes from a slew of Red Sox icons — Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant, Tim Wakefield, and Jason Varitek — and famous Boston sports figures — Bobby Orr of Bruins fame, Troy Brown of Patriots fame, and former Celtics captain Paul Pierce.
He has influenced fans in his biggest rival’s ballpark to chant his name out of respect, a word he said multiple times in his postgame news conference.
“I don’t know how many people could really unite a crowd like he did today,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Such big rivals, so much history between the teams, which you would’ve thought it was one team in a sense today. I don’t know how many players can do that in any sport, but I think it shows you the respect he has even against your toughest rival.”
Jeter batted twice in the Yankees’ 9-5 win, hitting an RBI single in his second at-bat. He was removed from the game to end his career on a high note. Before his last hit, which was his 3,465th, the crowd was quiet as it watched him work in the batter’s box. When he got back to the dugout from first base, it was all but quiet for the captain as both teams and much of the stadium gave him his final standing ovation.
Girardi said watching Jeter jog off the field is a vivid memory that will stick with him.
“There’s been a lot of ugly times in this rivalry, things that you wouldn’t necessarily want everyone to see,” he said. “But for one day, everyone came together.”
The pregame ceremony began with hands appearing from behind the Green Monster’s scoreboard to slide a W into New York’s first inning score slot. The letters I-T-H followed. The rest of the phrase came to the crowd as R-E-S-P-E-C-T was put into place. The message was personalized when “2 D-E-R-E-K J-E-T-E-R” was added on the Red Sox’ scoreline.
Jeter then emerged from the visitor’s dugout to take his place at shortstop, and took his cap off a few times in appreciation as he waved to the crowd. With a huge Yankee fan contingency in attendance, his name echoed inside the ballpark, and stadium announcer Henry Mahegan acknowledged the “admiration, gratitude, and respect” Boston has for Jeter.
The Red Sox greats strolled one by one out of the home dugout to shake Jeter’s hand, followed by Orr, Brown, and Pierce.
Then a familiar face emerged from the Red Sox dugout: Brian Butterfield, Jeter’s first major league infield coach who now serves as the Red Sox’ third-base coach, and he was toting a set of personalized L.L. Bean boots lined with an authentic Yankees jersey.
“I thought it was magnificent,” Girardi said of the pregame ceremony. “I don’t really imagine how you could do it any better than what they did being a visiting ballpark. It was special and it was really enjoyable to watch.”
Each embraced Jeter before flanking him to form a line between second and third base. David Ortiz led a single file line of the 2014 Red Sox onto the field. They all shook hands — Joe Kelly even took a selfie — with Jeter, and Dustin Pedroia came last and gave Jeter a customized second base with navy blue pinstripes and Jeter’s uniform No. 2 on it.
Even Boston native and Boston College alum Pete Frates, one of the driving forces behind last summer’s ice bucket challenge, joined the big names on the field.
“I didn’t expect everything that happened, all these guys coming out here, former athletes and former captains coming out,” Jeter said. “It was pretty special. I didn’t expect that.”
Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter at @rachelgbowers.