NEW YORK -- Sunday night was all about Derek Jeter, yet in typical fashion, No. 2 tried to make it about everybody else.
A sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium showered Jeter with love and affection, appreciative of every jump throw, dive, opposite-field hit -- and most important, every win -- he delivered during his two-decade run in the Bronx.
Homemade signs ranged from the clever ("I like my mom; I love Derek Jeter" and "Happy Jeter Day to my mom") to the cliché ("RE2PECT" and "Thanks for the Memories Captain") as fans tried to express their gratitude to the greatest Yankee of this generation.
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Jeter, who struggled to talk about his own game throughout his brilliant career, was no different during this celebration. After wishing his mother, grandmother, sister and pregnant wife a Happy Mother's Day, Jeter thanked the Steinbrenner family, his managers, coaches, teammates, support staff and his family, giving an Oscars-like acceptance speech without fear of being played off by any music.
Then Jeter turned to the people he's credited with inspiring him for years despite the fact that he's never met most of them.
"The fans -- wow," Jeter said, drawing the exact ovation one would expect following such a comment. "I want to thank you guys for pushing me, for challenging me, for making me accountable, but more importantly, for embracing me since day one."
Accountability was always important to Jeter, who wasn't at his locker after every Yankees win, but always made sure to make himself available to reporters following every loss.
Those defeats were far more infrequent than the victories, thanks to Jeter and his teammates. Ten of those guys were on the field to help honor The Captain, along with a handful of other Yankees dignitaries, including Joe Torre, Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph and Gene "Stick" Michael.
In a nice touch, Soot Zimmer, the widow of Don Zimmer -- a Jeter favorite -- was also on hand, escorted to the field by Aaron Judge. (You just knew Judge would be a part of the festivities somehow, didn't you?)
At one point after the ceremony, Jeter was asked what stands out to him as the most special aspect of his career. That's something he never reflected on while playing, but two-plus years removed from his final game, had he finally been able to appreciate one or two moments above the others?
Nope. For Jeter, it was simply being able to play for the same team -- to be a part of the Yankees -- for his entire career.
"When you're in it, you don't really think about it too much because you just come and do your job," Jeter said. "But after I've retired, I realize how special that was."
Pressed again for a moment, Jeter almost seemed embarrassed to admit which one stood out: his walk-off hit in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium.
"[It's] ironic because it's the only game I played in here that didn't mean anything," Jeter said. "But the way that the fans reacted and the relationship that I had with them for 20 years, it felt as though it was a playoff-type atmosphere. I feel selfish saying that because, like I said, we were eliminated. But that was a special moment for me, and I'll never forget that last game."
Jeter kept coming back to that word: special. Not in relation to himself or what he accomplished on the field, but rather what the relationships meant to him all these years, from those closest to him in his life to those that, although they may never have met, still felt like family.
So while the fans -- many of whom wore No. 2 in some form or fashion -- tried to express their love for Jeter, he did his best to make them know the feeling was mutual.
"I had this special relationship with the organization and the fans for years," Jeter said. "I didn't want to prepare a speech because when I prepare speeches, if I forget part of it, none of it makes sense when I speak. Literally, I didn't know what to say besides 'thank you.'"
Jeter didn't come prepared with a speech, though just as he did on the final night at the old Stadium across the street, he hit it out of the park with his words Sunday night. Being able to share it with his family, friends, teammates and fans made the night what it was for Jeter, who said seeing his number hanging in Monument Park was never one of his goals when he embarked on this journey 25 years ago.
"It's a special day; even now, what do you say? I mean, my number was retired by the Yankees? It's hard to believe," Jeter said. "This is one of those special days, which I'll never forget. When you have this dream about playing baseball and playing for the Yankees, having your number retired is an honor itself. This is the icing on the cake."