There will never be another Derek Jeter
It was supposed to rain like crazy in the Bronx Thursday night. Meteorologists suggested Yankee Stadium would become a soggy mess. But it never happened. Of course, it didn't. That New York borough had the extraordinary powers of Derek Sanderson Jeter, who could make even the sun and the moon obey, especially when he wore pinstripes.
I'm already speaking of Jeter's baseball life in the past tense. Yes, he still has games to play in Boston. But you know what? Fughedaboutit. For Jeter, Thursday night inside an absolutely dry ballpark near the Harlem River was the finale to his 20th and last Major League season. Those years were all with the Yankees, all productive, all dramatic enough to leave us with thoughts for future baseball generations: Now what, and who?
The answer: Nobody.
Nobody ever will do what Jeter just did, and I'm not only talking about his game-winning single Thursday night. With much of the world watching his every breath -- along with a who's who collection stuffed inside of Yankee Stadium -- this was his farewell to the hometown fans as a player.
Actually, let's continue right there, because what Jeter did in that Orioles game leads us to one of the biggest reasons few -- OK, nobody -- will follow in his cleat steps. He lived for moments, and then he owned them.
His moment Thursday night was different, though. He was battling the Orioles and himself, and the latter was the tougher foe.
"It was the first time in my career I told myself, 'Please, don't hit it to me,'" he said, describing his emotions at shortstop, where he fought back tears.
Even so, he gathered himself enough to double home a run in his first at-bat. Then he collected two more RBIs after that, including one that helped solidify his legend.
This was vintage Jeter, the Yankees' captain who rarely encountered one of those moments in which he didn't apply pixie dust to his bat, his glove, his arm or his legs. There was his "flip play" out of nowhere against the A's during the 2001 playoffs. He blasted that game-winning home run during the post-9/11 World Series to become Mr. November. Speaking of homers, he wasn't a power hitter, but he nevertheless has 260 of them entering the season's final weekend. For one of them, he ripped his 3,000th hit, and he did so against David Price, a perennial All-Star pitcher. Then there was his last trip to the All-Star Game, where he promptly delivered a double to right in his first at-bat.
Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton -- They've all had their moments. They all come to mind regarding candidates who could prosper in Jeter-type situations on a consistent basis. It's just that Trout, McCutchen and Stanton would have to encounter and conquer those moments for a couple of decades. You know, just like Jeter.
Good luck with that. The same goes for anybody seeking to become the next bigger-than-life player without even the hint of scandal. This was as impressive as Jeter's ability to shock opponents in the clutch. Here was this highly sought-after bachelor who was the most visible athlete on the most famous professional sports team in history, and he was playing in New York City, which we are told through song is a place that never sleeps.
That normally equals trouble.
Not for Jeter. In addition, he spent the bulk of his career playing for the famously demanding George Steinbrenner, who had issues with just about every gigantic personality in his clubhouse. Jeter was a glaring exception. Even after the tabloids said they were feuding deep in the shadows, they did a national commercial together to spoof the situation.
Here's the other thing: In addition to referring to The Boss as "Mr. Steinbrenner," Jeter called Yankees manager Joe Torre "Mr. Torre." I mean, what other superstar of Jeter's caliber respected his elders that way from the beginning to the end of their careers, and who will do so in the future?
Some may be as polite as Jeter, and others might follow one of his greatest attributes by perfecting the lost art of always looking folks in the eyes while answering their questions.
But this is for sure: Several things are going the way of Babe Ruth's old flannel uniforms after Jeter leaves the Yankees dugout for the last time in Boston. His No. 2 will be the last of the single-digit numbers worn by anybody for the Yankees. He also will be the final player to exit from the franchise's dynasty that produced the likes of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Robinson Cano and others along the way to five World Series since 1996.
Finally, you had the recorded words of the late Bob Sheppard over the public address system. Whenever Jeter strolled to home plate, it was Sheppard's distinguished voice saying: "Now batting for the Yankees, number two, Derek Jeter, number two."
No more. Nobody ever will have anything close to such an introduction as long as baseballs are round. That was purely Jeter, along everything else I didn't have time to mention.
No wonder Jeter almost cried Thursday night.