I’ve been a Red Sox fan since in 1967. I love my Sox. I hate those Yankees.
In the midst of the glorious, dramatic, emotional, incredible fall of 2004, when my team was fighting back against those Damn Yankees to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years, I was as eager as any other New Englander to hate everyone in pinstripes. Fans and players and coaches alike, we despised them all.
But when it was all over, and the crazy euphoria of the miracle year began to fade, I realized that I didn’t actually hate them all in quite the same way.
I knew pretty early on his career that I would have nothing but disdain for the self-absorbed pretty boy known as A-Rod. I feel sorry for him, in many ways, but I have always thought that he was the quintessential jerk. And it was pretty easy to dislike guys like Mike “I went to an Ivy League School” Mussina and Jason “I’m a thug” Giambi. I was able to whip myself up against Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, and all the rest of those loud mouthed, bad accented, New York jack asses.
But somehow, try as I might, I couldn’t get myself to hate Derek Jeter.
I mean, sure I wished him ill. I wished him strikeouts and dropped balls and maybe even the occasional pulled hammy.
But I couldn’t get myself to hate the man himself.
Derek Jeter always seemed like an old time baseball hero. He was a guy who could have swaggered and postured like Manny Ramirez. But he didn’t. He could have been a womanizing, bragging, A-list-actress dating ass. But he wasn’t. He was more like the guy I always thought Honus Wagner must have been. He was the NY version of Gentleman Jim Lonborg.
He was a true ball player. He was grateful for the chance to play the game. Unlike the JD Drew and Manny types on my team, he didn’t take days off for fatigue or hangnails or bad haircuts. He showed up, and he played. He always gave it his best.
But here is the reason why I most admire the Captain of the New York Yankees.
I once heard him interviewed on an ESPN special. He talked about being nine years old, and lying in bed, dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yanks. He was a New Jersey kid, and the Yankees were his team. Like ten million kids before and after him, Jeter dreamed of playing for his home team. He talked about how he got up from bed, a little boy with a big dream, and went into his parents’ bedroom. He woke them up so that he could tell them what he dreamed of doing with his life. “Someday”, he said, “I’m going to play shortstop for the Yankees.” His parents’ reaction is what I love the most about this story. They listened to him seriously, and then they told him to go for it. “You’re going to have to work really hard.”, they said. “You can do it if you really want to. Now go back to bed.”
I love that story. I love that Derek Jeter took that work ethic to heart, and made his dream come true.
When my fifth graders talk about their dreams, they sometimes add the words, “But it probably won’t come true.” I always tell them about Derek Jeter, and about the night he woke his parents up to announce his intentions. I repeat their wise advice, and I tell my students that they will have to work hard, but that they can achieve any dream they seek.
Thank you, Derek Jeter. Thank you for the drama and delicious euphoria of 2004. Thank you for being a real live, honest to God role model. Thank you for being someone I can refer to when I talk to my students about goals and dreams.
I’m still glad that the Yanks didn’t make the playoffs, but I am truly sad tonight as I watch Derek Jeter play his last game at Yankee Stadium. It is truly the end of an age.