I can't imagine a summer when my family's soundtrack will not exclusively consist of the Yanks' radio network. It is on all the time, heard in the background on my Dad's transistor radio. Whenever I went to my Grandma's house, we always had to yell at the front door when we walked in because she couldn't hear us over the afternoon game. My Grandma and Grandpa were some of the biggest Yankee fans I will ever know.
My Grandma grew up in the Bronx, up the block from Yankee Stadium. My Grandpa saw Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio play. My dad and my uncles saw Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra. I got to see Mariano Rivera and, most of all, Derek Jeter.
The Yankees are a huge part of my childhood in that they have meant so much to three generations of my family, and they mean so much to my dad. So they mean a lot to me. In the wake of Derek Jeter's announcement last week that this season will be his last, this is the perfect time to reflect upon his impact on my favorite team, and what his retirement means for a lifelong fan.
Derek Jeter was drafted a year before I was born and started playing when I was three years old.
In the playoffs when I was three I got to stay awake until the first inning to give my Dad a high five and yell “Go ‘Ankees” for luck. There has never been a time when Derek Jeter wasn't on my team, a time I can recall when he wasn't the captain, or a time when he wasn't the most consistently stupendous player. You could tell he always played hard, and he always had the confidence that he could make the big play when it counted. We always had faith in Captain Clutch. My dad in particular always supported him, even when he wasn't having the best season, but I can't recall many times when that happened. Even if I haven't seen all of Derek's amazing plays in real time, like “the flip,” or when he dove into the stands, I have heard them recounted by my dad many times, and each time fills me with pride for my team.
I’ve had other favorite players, most recently Curtis Granderson who left, and I really liked Jorge Posada, but I always knew Jeter was my favorite. He is the perfect player in my favorite sport. He is multi-ethnic and handsome. He has always seemed calm and self assured, giving you hope that the team could come back and win. I loved seeing his parents in the audience—and it seemed like they were there for every game. I love the fact that he set up the Turn 2 Foundation to help kids who were in trouble. I love that he wanted a recording of Bob Sheppard (the Yankee Stadium public address announcer who died a few years ago after announcing players for 50 years) to introduce him every time he stepped up to the plate. I loved seeing his clenched fist and smile at the end of a win. I loved seeing his eyes squint when he got up to the plate. That was one of the most unbelievable things about him — he made it look so easy. You could never see what kind of pressure he was under. No amount of taunts or yells from the stadium could take his focus.
The fans put a lot of pressure on him, and maybe that contributed to his success. In fact, his announcement about his upcoming retirement, which, typical for Derek, was not made through the media but right to the fans, through Facebook, made that point. He didn’t paint it as all sunshine and success. He said there were boos, as well. He said the “NY fans always pushed me to be my best,” and the same fans had “challenged me, cheered for me, beat me down and picked me back up all at the same time. NY made me stronger, kept me more focused, and made me a better more well-rounded person. For that I will be forever grateful.”