Derek Jeter ended his brilliant career as a New York Yankee the only way he could. With the chants of "Derek Jeter" and "Thank You Jeter" roaring through the entire stadium, Jeter came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning in a game that was already tied at five. Two men were on, there was one out.
Jeter didn't wait to suspend the drama any further. It was his last game at Yankee Stadium, likely the last game he would ever play. He's been in these situations his entire career -- another pressure situation is nothing to him. He lined the first pitch he saw from Evan Meek to right field with that ever familiar pull swing that has been a trademark of his 20-year career. The hit was deep enough to drive in Antoan Richardson with the winning run to make it 6-5.
Jeter extended his arms into the air as his teammates mobbed him, soaking it all in with him. After hugging each of his teammates, he began to walk toward the dugout, before catching a glance of his old teammates waiting and watching in the wings. Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams and former manager Joe Torre were waiting for Jeter. Jeter didn't break down when he saw them, but I'm sure he was tearing up inside.
He then took a walk around the infield, and around the park tipping his cap to the Yankee fans he entertained for so many years. The run was now over.
WATCH JETER's WALK OFF SINGLE!
While he wasn't the best player to ever play the position, statistically, Jeter was the last connection the fans had to the club's championship days of the late 90s-early 2000's. He was the face of the franchise for an entire generation, especially one that grew up watching him play every single day. 2015 will be weird for those Yankees fans under 30 who are not used to the Yankees without Jeter in the lineup.
From the Flip play to the walk-off home runs in the playoffs against the Orioles and Diamondbacks; homeruns against the Mets in the World Series -- he had a lot of big moments for a era of Yankees baseball steeped in winning. As the most popular of those teams, among Yankees fans, it is fitting that he was the last of this group to retire, and did so in dramatic fashion.
Now that Jeter has walked into sunset, so does the overlong and stretched out Derek Jeter Retirement Tour that after a while hit a point of ridiculousness. From teams bending over backwards to shower Jeter with one bizarre gift after another (i.e. the NY Yankees cowboy boots from the Rangers, surf boards from the Rays, and Angles, I could go on), to the ludicrous gushing by fan, pundits and commercials as if Jeter was the only great player to ever retire -- the tour became a bit much.
Perhaps the Jeter-phenomenon that grabbed the nation has its roots in many different aspects of our culture. For starters, he was the face of the most recognized franchise in baseball -- a clean cut image of success, and Jeter's persona embodied that. He kept himself off Page Six; never drank or fooled around in Alex Rodriguez fashion.
Also a big part of the celebration of his career might stem from baseball fans' reaction and rejection of the steroid era. Jeter is the third straight player who played in the era, and considered clean, to retire. Before him Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera retired in consecutive years to similar fanfare and parades. Thanks to the steroid boys McGuire, Sosa, Clemens and A-Rod, fans wanted to wrap their hands around someone who was good and decent from that time period, and Jeter is it.
Like George C. Scott said in the opening monoluge to Patton, "America loves a winner." Jeter won a lot, but now it is time to move on. Baseball will survive. The Yankees will survive, and Jeter will survive. The memories he left Yankees fans will live on forever -- and I can guarantee he will show up at Yankees Stadium from time to time.