In 2014 my childhood died; this past Sunday was the funeral. I share this sentiment with everyone else who was born in the 1990’s and grew up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, Ground Zero, and, of course, Mitt Romney proving that maybe giving up after your first attempt isn't always a terrible idea.
The funeral I'm speaking of is the retiring of Derek Jeter’s number at Yankee Stadium- the last Yankee to ever wear number two and the last remnant of the dynasty that won four World Series championships in five years.
Jeter joining the ranks of Ruth and Gehrig in Yankee lore is no surprise to anyone who ever put on a pinstripe jersey, any kid who picked up and bat and imagined his voice being announced at Yankee stadium in the godly voice of Bob Sheppard, or any girl that told me they would date me if I looked more like the captain (yes that happened, I don't need pity), but it still doesn't take away the sting of a childhood concluded.
On Monday as I awoke from a Leinenkugel-induced coma (do not judge me, we’ve all been there), I realized that although an era has come to a conclusion, I really cannot complain. As a Yankee fan, I can boast five World Series victories in my lifetime, two stadiums, at least half a dozen hall of famers, and, of course, number two.
Jeter was not just a baseball player, he was baseball itself. He was the perfect combination of skill, class, finesse, and fortune that any bright- eyed little leaguer wanted to emulate. His significance was so apparent that the beginning of every baseball season was marked by the annual battle to the death to obtain the coveted number two uniform, and every baseball coach had to constantly field demands to teach the famous back handed grab and leaping throw to first base from shortstop. Jeter made it a common practice for kids to say “I want to play shortstop for the New York Yankees-“ a fact that is pretty impressive considering how many people despise the pinstriped team.
Derek’s actions were poetic, always fitting the time and place in both clutchness (pretty sure I'm making that word up) and intensity. Think about it, you start in 96 with the Jeffrey Maier home run against Baltimore, go to 2001 with the Mr. November home run in the aftermath of 9/11, the diving catch against Boston, the speech at the last game at the Old Stadium, his 3,000th hit, his final at bat in the Bronx, and many more. It would be a challenge to find an athlete who can single-handedly top those moments that served as milestones in the childhoods of many baseball fans. Jeter was an athletic deity among humans (yes I'm allowed to be dramatic here, I'm mourning the passing of my childhood).
To me, the best part about growing up in the era of The Captain is that he is one of the few childhood role models from our generation who ended up not being a screwup. In the age of the Mitchell Report and Juiced, where greats like Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire all fell from greatness and legitimacy for the use of performance enhancing drugs, Jeter remained clean. In an era where A-Rod was personally learning an alternate meaning to “Like a Virgin,” Jeter’s private life remained just that- private and free of any clear missteps. He played with a passion and lived with integrity. It really says a lot for a celebrity to maintain that reputation today.
We millennial Yankee fans and fans of the game overall were given the gift of growing up watching a legend our grandchildren will ask us about. Like all good gifts however, time became an enemy and all we are left with are memories and a bunch of retired baseball players who look like the actors for “Touch of Gray” commercials. We now ask ourselves “what's next?” My enemies from the city of Boston are entering a mourning period of their own, as Big Papi has stepped down and will soon see his number hanging from the storied tiers of Fenway Park. What we can look forward to, however, is the new age of young emerging stars that we have currently entered into. When Mickey Mantle stepped down, Derek Jeter wasn't even born yet. We have no idea what legends will come out of the woodwork next, and while we may never see another player like Jeter, we can all be thankful for having the privilege to grow up with him.