One final baseball hurrah for the Yankees' captain
BOSTON -- Derek Jeter will put on the Yankees gray road uniform one final time on Sunday morning. His 2,747th regular-season game. He'll do this because, well, you know why. That ought to be obvious.
People have bought tickets and made plans. People who love this game want one last chance to see Derek Jeter play baseball. If you've been paying attention these last 20 seasons, you understand this part of the deal.
He feels an obligation. Will his heart be in it? That's a tough one. If we're being brutally honest, you probably know the answer to that one. Because it's Derek Jeter, he'll try to get there. That's what pros do.
He'll go through all the routines one final time, and at some point, it's sure to hit him that now it is really over. After Sunday, there'll be only memories.
Don't expect an outpouring of emotion. He's probably beyond that sort of thing, having arrived here in the wee hours of Friday physically exhausted, emotionally spent. He wrote the perfect ending on Thursday night with that walk-off single at Yankee Stadium and especially with the outpouring of emotion and celebration that followed.
Who could ask for one more thing from this guy?
Commissioner Bud Selig understands. He was so touched by that ending he had trouble sleeping. He finally grabbed a piece of paper and began scribbling the names of the best players of every generation.
Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial. Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson. Willie Mays and Henry Aaron. For a couple of months now, Selig has told us again and again that it had been an honor to watch Jeter all these years and that what Ted Williams meant to one generation, Jeter means to this one.
So after Jeter wrote one of the great endings any player has ever written, nothing he could do this weekend at Fenway Park could come close to that. No one should have blamed him for leaving just that way. Ted Williams homered in his last at-bat at Fenway Park in 1960, then didn't play during a three-game road trip to Yankee Stadium.
Anyway, Jeter did take Friday off and said he would serve as the Yankees designated hitter on Saturday and Sunday. When Yankees manager Joe Girardi checked with him on Saturday morning, Jeter said he was good for two at-bats.
He got warm ovations before both. He once more heard his name chanted. Red Sox starter Joe Kelly struck him out with a 99-mph fastball in the first inning, then Jeter beat out an infield chopper in the third for his 3,464th hit. He sprinted through first base and appeared to be limping when he returned to the dugout.
His day was over. Girardi said he would again check with Jeter before filling out his lineup card on Sunday. When Jeter was asked if he would play Sunday, he said, "Yep."
Does it matter? It ended in a larger way on Thursday. He gave us all he had. He has done that for 20 seasons. He did it in May the same way he did it in October. He prided himself on that. He never thought he had the most talent, so he determined early on to never be outworked.
"He was always prepared," Girardi said. "He always wanted to play. As a manager, that's all you can ask."
Greatness can be defined a hundred different ways. For Jeter, it was about being conscientious and smart and taking advantage of every single gift he'd been given. He had plenty of physical gifts, but he's special because he maximized them and because he did the game -- and his franchise -- proud off the field, too.
If he were any other player, he might not have even tried to play again.
"If it was me, I'm not sure what I would have done," Girardi said.
From the moment Jeter announced in February that this season would be his last, baseball fans have understood this day would be here sooner than they could have imagined. That's what Sunday represents. One of the great players to ever play the game will put some kind of finishing touch on his career.
Jeter's legacy is secure, and Girardi used the word "sadness" to describe this ending.
"You never want to see a great player leave," he said.
Maybe Jeter summed it up perfectly a couple of days ago.
"I wouldn't change a thing," he said.