Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain!

I'm probably the tenth guy on this blog to write a Jeter article, but here goes nothin'...

As a player, Jeter's been one of the most consistently brilliant shortstops in baseball. Even in recent years, when he wasn't entirely able to go into the hole as fast as years earlier, once in a while he'd show those flashes of gold-glove fielding that made the hair on your arms stand up. It brought you back to the 90s, when Jeter would throw from the outfield grass, or field it like Cal Ripken and make the throw as he ranged toward second base. On more than one occasion, he's sacrificed his body (and face) to make the play: 2001 against the A's, 2004 off Trot Nixon's bat in that great 13-inning game against the Sox.

I've had a few run-ins with the Captain. When I was 10, he didn't sign my ball; when I was 14, he walked past us in spring training. But aside from that, he was a player I truly enjoyed watching and was connected to. I've never known anyone but #2 at shortstop in my now 17th season as a Yankee fan. This was a player who put his team's goals above his own. If he was thinking about his 3,000th hit, he sure didn't show it. On the day he hit that home run, I know he would've felt like something was missing if the Yankees lost that afternoon. On the field, he was an unselfish, quiet leader, but inside burned, as cliche as it sounds, the heart of a champion.

You could tell last year really bothered him; as someone who's fought injuries in his life, I can sympathize with the fact that it's frustrating when you can no longer quite do the things you used to, or with the same energy. We all thought when he went down in Game 1 against the Tigers that he'd get up right away; this is The Captain, after all. When he rolled around and winced with pain, knowing that Jeter always played through, it had to be something serious. There will be a lot of "what if's" in the end; specifically that hit total. Could he have played deep into his 40s as Rose and Cobb did? Could be have eclipsed 3,500...3,750...4,000 hits?

As the homegrown talent's retired and moved on, I've reached different stages of my life. I was 13 when Bernie was forced out...err, I mean retired. I graduated high school with Andy's first retirement, and Jorge's definite retirement. I've lived through Mo's farewell tour, and now, with my college graduation in 10 months, Derek Jeter, the cornerstone of my Yankee childhood, is now retiring. This truly is the last year of my, and many other Yankee fans, childhood. It's symbolic that I'm now moving on into adulthood as my childhood leaves me.

Yankee fans, fear not. We have YouTube, Google Images and Yankees Classics to go back in time and relive the past for a moment. We also have something no one can take away: memories. I can close my eyes right now in meditation and go back to my old seats, 12 rows behind first base, at the old Yankee Stadium. I'm sitting next to my dad, Bob Sheppard's announcing the batter, that music from the old Six Flags commercials comes on whenever the Yankees score, and somewhere in the distance, I hear fans banging on Freddie's frying pan.

Oh Captain, My Captain!

Neil Dwyer @neildwyer1993

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)