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Athletics recognize Jeter as cut above rest

Yankees captain's career celebrated prior to Sunday's series finale

OAKLAND -- It was the Derek Jeter way -- understated class.

It's how he has played the game of baseball. It's how he has lived his life.

And it's how the A's wished him well prior to his final regular-season appearance at Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.

Jeter was presented a bottle of fine wine, a stay at a Napa Valley resort and a private tour with the winemaker at the Abreu Vineyard.

The message was delivered, just like Jeter has delivered his messages of greatness without a lot of bluster in a Major League career that is in its 20th and final season.

For all that Jeter has accomplished on the field -- and he has been the consistent in a resurgence of the Yankees, who advanced to the postseason in 17 of his 19 previous seasons, winning seven AL pennants and five world championships -- what is arguably even more impressive is how Jeter has stayed above the fray.

"Don't jinx me," he said.

Jeter hasn't been a regular on the front page of the tabloids. Those newsstand gossip sheets have rarely been able to dig up a good piece of trash on him.

"And it's not like he hasn't gone out and been on the town," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin, who played briefly with Jeter at Triple-A Columbus in 1994 and '95. "He's just handled himself so professionally. It's amazing.

"As much as anything it's a statement of his parents and the value system they instilled in him as a kid. He has never lost touch with that."

Jeter has been a potential target. He has been associated with some of the more stunning women of his time, lived in New York City, and played on Yankees teams where the steroid era stained the resumes of teammates such as Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi.

Jeter has been dented but never damaged.

"That city doesn't sleep, and neither do the eyes of the city," said former All-Star outfielder Ken Singleton, now a part of the Yankees' TV broadcast team. "He is an amazing guy. He treats people the way he wants to be treated."

Yes, Jeter is on the all-time lists for a career in which he has hit .312 (67th all time), appeared in 2,661 games (33rd all time), and delivered 3,380 hits (eighth all time). He has been honored with 13 All-Star appearances, five Gold Glove Awards, five Silver Slugger Awards, the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP Award in both the All-Star Game and World Series in 2000. And he's got to be a first-time Hall of Fame inductee.

But it's more than that which has made Jeter the face of the game. It's more than purely numbers that made him as big a promotion as the A's could have ever had. They sold out all three games during the weekend. It had been two years since the A's sold out three consecutive games, and those were for the June 22-24 Interleague series with the Bay Bridge rival Giants.

In fact, since they sold out their final three home games of the 2006 season against the Angels, when they were clinching the AL West, the only times the A's had been able to sell out the park for three consecutive games were for the Giants visits in 2006, '07, '11 and '12, and a three-game visit by Jeter and the Yankees April 13-15, 2007.

Melvin understands.

"In reflection, I'm a fan, and this is the last time he's going to be in this ballpark," said Melvin, quickly adding, "but as the game is going on, I'm all about winning."

Edge Melvin. The A's took two of three from the Yankees during the weekend.

And Jeter handled his farewell just like anyone who knows him would have expected.

He arrived in Oakland along with the rest of the Yankees for the opening game of his final regular-season visit on Friday, got in some work in the batting cages before the Yankees took batting practice, and then found a spot on the bench in the visiting dugout to meet with the media for a session to discuss his farewell tour.

There were questions about high points of his career, and mention made of "the flip play" he made to throw out Jeremy Giambi at the plate here in Game 3 of the 2001 AL Division Series, which was considered the turning point for the Yankees, who after losing the first two games, won the best-of-five series en route to the World Series.

The A's didn't replay that moment as part of the tribute, which was fine with Jeter.

"I really am not one to rank memories," Jeter said. "All are special."

That media session wasn't a one-and-done moment for Jeter. His locker was the first one to the left of the door to the visiting clubhouse. He never scowled or frowned as he was approached with questions before and after the games.

"This year," said Singleton, "he seems to be enjoying the moment. He likes this is it and he is taking it all in.

"He was in the batting cage one day and told me, 'There's one thing I have to do before I call it a career.' I asked him what that was. He said, 'Get thrown out of a game.' I laughed. I said, 'You haven't been thrown out of a game?' He said, 'Well, I've almost been thrown out a couple of times.'"

Jeter is not colorful, on the field or off. But he is professional. He has time for those who approach him and he has had a hand in success of the last two decades of the Yankees franchise.

"The thing that stuck out for me was he did whatever it took to win," Melvin said. "He wasn't hitting 600-foot home runs in batting practice, wasn't showing off an arm like Andre Dawson's. But he did everything right."

That goes for off the field, too.

"You are who you are," Jeter said. "It starts when you are younger. You never want to disappoint your parents, and I still don't. I don't try to be someone I am not. Everyone makes mistakes. I have made my share, but I like to think I have a good group of friends, people I've been around for 20 years or more.

"You want to be surrounded by people who will be honest with you, who will tell you when you are wrong."

It's something Jeter hasn't had to be told very often in his big league career.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
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