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Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Final Season

Now for something less angry and more... bittersweet.

A legend of my own time has announced this is his final go-round with the Yankees.

Derek Jeter, shortstop, #2, Yankee captain has announced that this is his final season, that he rides off into the sunset (and likely the Hall of Fame) after the 2014 season.  I'm sad, I admit it.  Jeter may not be the flashiest player, or the one with the biggest power numbers, but what he did on the field, what he has meant for baseball, echoes something that the last 20 or so years have meant in my life.

Consistency.

Every season you could pencil Derek Jeter in for a batting average at or near .300, between 10 and 20 home runs, 70-90 RBIs, and 185-200 hits.  Every year.  Like clockwork.  These are not easy numbers to achieve, and yet he did it with such quiet regularity that when it didn't happen, and he had an average ballplayer's year, the sky was falling, and reporters heralded his demise as eminent.

Jeter was -- is -- a winner.  And beyond that, he's smart enough to understand what it means to be a star.  It's why you've heard nothing negative about him off the field.  Arrive, play the game, go home, repeat.  On top of that, he did it with the biggest media draw in the biggest media market.  New York is a baseball-crazy city to the point where even the most ignorant to the sport has a cursory knowledge at least of what's going on.  New York is a celebrity driven media market to the point where we know which restaurants certain stars will dine in.  And Derek Jeter has consistently remained in the spotlight but not of the spotlight.  An ESPN reporter described this feat as like "surviving in Chernobyl, and then emerging as the healthiest person to have ever lived."

Consistency.

I turned 18 the year Derek Jeter won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996.  It was the first championship I had the pleasure of enjoying (I was only a few days old in '78 when the Yanks won.  The Mets in '86? Well, they're the Mets, it doesn't count.) and really kicked off my formative years.  My twenties were played out with Yankee championships in the backdrop, and I enjoyed the wonders of the twenties: youth and awareness being at equal levels for the only time in your life.  I equate the career of this man, the one great player whose career I had the pleasure of closely following as a fan, as a link to those wonderful days of being young and dumb, energetic and impetuous, and the championships as a metaphor for my own perceived invincibility.  I loved being in my 20's in New York City.  I loved my life.  The only person I would have traded with at the time is Derek Jeter.  After all, as fun as it was for me, I didn't date supermodels, nor did I have multiple millions in the bank.

As that link to my young adulthood fades off, I find that I'm suddenly facing the realization that I'm not 20 something anymore.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my age, my life and so on, but that time is gone forever, and only exists as memories -- stories that through retelling are elevated to legend.

Much like the career of one Derek Jeter.

So as this nascent baseball season gets underway, I thank Mr. Jeter, much like I thanked his teammate Mariano Rivera last year, for providing an excellent backdrop to an awesome story.

Sidebar:  I want to be in my hometown for Jeter's final home game at Yankee Stadium, I don't care if I have to Kickstarter that thing...

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