Paying Re2pect: Jeter thanked in Bronx
A host of luminaries watch Yankees' captain give emotional speech
NEW YORK -- The last words of Derek Jeter's brief, off-the-cuff speech may have been his most fitting, following offers of gratitude to teammates, personnel and especially the fans. They produced yet another rousing ovation, explaining exactly why he deserved that applause.
"I've loved what I've done, I love what I do, but more importantly I love doing it for you," Jeter said, clutching a microphone with a right hand that he later admitted was trembling ever so slightly. "From the bottom of my heart, thank you very much. ... And we've got a game to play."
With that, Jeter again shook the hands of those standing behind him on the infield -- including family members, close friends from the baseball world and three surprise guests: Cal Ripken Jr., Dave Winfield and Michael Jordan -- and departed to run his pregame sprints in the outfield.
That dedication to the job is why many have reserved Jeter's spot among the top Yankees of all time; as the retiring captain closes in on what may be the final three weeks of his playing career, some would have no issue ranking him at the top of the list.
"I never saw Babe Ruth play, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle," Mariano Rivera was saying about an hour earlier in the Stadium's basement. "But I saw Derek play for 19 years in the big leagues and some years in the Minor Leagues. All I saw was determination and desire to be the best. Definitely, for me, he is No. 1."
Wherever you want to place him, this was all about No. 2. The schedule said that it was Derek Jeter Day in the Bronx, something that the City of New York one-upped, with Mayor Bill de Blasio issuing a proclamation that blanketed the five boroughs in Jeter's name. For Jeter, the most important item on the agenda was Yankees vs. Royals, 1:35 p.m. ET, a game Kansas City won, 2-0.
"It was awesome. It was something that I'll always remember," Jeter said. "The Yankees know how to throw good ceremonies. To be a part of it, having all those people come out and show their support, and the fans the way they've treated me -- this is a day that I'll remember forever."
Jeter acknowledged that it was "very strange" to be viewing his career in the past tense, even with the Yankees mathematically alive for a postseason spot. But this was the inevitable reality of Jeter's decision to announce his retirement in February; sooner or later, there would be a day in his honor.
"You want him to finish strong," Jorge Posada said. "I told him, 'September has always been a good month for you, so go out there and do what you do and help the team get to where they need to be.'"
Jeter said he had to guard against being emotional, and there will be other days to bite his bottom lip; Jeter may have trouble getting through his final Yankee Stadium game on Sept. 25, and who knows what may happen for that last game on the schedule, Sept. 28 in Boston?
"Toward the end, it's going to be tougher for him," Posada said. "That last homestand here is going to be tough, saying goodbye, and probably those three games in Boston, you know that's it. It's going to be tough. It would be easier if he gets to the playoffs, because obviously he'd have something to look forward to."
Joe Torre, the manager for Jeter's first full season, wasn't exactly clicking refresh on Facebook this February, but he didn't need to. Before going public with his decision, Jeter got a nod of approval from the man he still affectionately calls "Mr. T."
"We shared breakfast together before he went to Spring Training," Torre said. "I was sort of surprised but pleased, because I had said to him at the time, 'It'll give everybody an opportunity to really appreciate what you've done all these years and celebrate it.' Not you -- but I think everybody else can do that."
The Yankees took the field wearing special patches in Jeter's honor on their left sleeves and caps, which will be used for the remaining regular-season games. Flags bearing his No. 2 will also fly above Yankee Stadium for the remainder of the season.
"In my opinion, I've had the greatest job in the world," Jeter said. "I got a chance to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees, and there's only one of those."
In his remarks, Jeter said that it is "kind of hard to believe that 20 seasons have gone by so quickly," and he thanked the Steinbrenner family and the late George M. Steinbrenner "for giving me the opportunity to play my entire career for the only organization I've ever wanted to play for."
"It's the end of an era," Paul O'Neill said. "You close the book on all the World Series and an unbelievable career. But to think of what he accomplished and how he did it, it's unbelievable, and that's the happy part of the story."
A veritable "Who's Who" of Jeter's career was in attendance, beginning with Jeter's grandmother, Dorothy Connors; it was at her New Jersey home where Jeter first fell in love with the idea of playing for the Yankees, sparking the dream that would propel him to a career as a five-time World Series champion.
Jeter's parents, Charles and Dorothy, were next on the field, followed by Jeter's sister Sharlee and young nephew Jalen, who again tipped his cap in what is becoming a signature move. Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred was also present, and numerous members of the Jeter's Leaders from the Turn 2 Foundation spilled out of the center-field gate to watch a video tribute.
With members of the Royals standing at the top step of their dugout, many pointing their camera phones at the ceremony, the video drew roars at all of the significant moments -- Jeter's flip play, the hoisting of the 2009 World Series trophy, his 3,000th hit -- but none louder than when Jeter was introduced, doffing his cap repeatedly at the center of the diamond.
The "Core Four" was short one, as Andy Pettitte couldn't make it, but Reggie Jackson, Gene Monahan, Hideki Matsui, David Cone, Bernie Williams, Tim Raines and Gerald Williams more than helped to fill the void.
Jeter was pleased by the surprise guests: Ripken, who helped set the bar for shortstops; Winfield, whose jersey Jeter wore as a boy; and finally Jordan, who first met Jeter in the Arizona Fall League and developed into a role model off the field -- something Jordan says he also feels.
"I totally admire him," Jordan said. "Being in the city of New York, where one little hiccup can basically fry your personality or your persona, this kid has done everything the right way. He's done it in a way that no one can criticize anything that he's done in this environment during a 20-year career. That says a lot about the way he was brought up."
The Yankees added some gifts to the growing collection that Jeter has amassed during this final big league campaign. Head athletic trainer Steve Donohue trotted out with a Mettler G5 massage therapy machine, the same make and model that Jeter has joked he will steal out of the clubhouse when his playing days are done.
Jeter also received a framed display of the patches from all 14 of his All-Star Games, a 10-day vacation to Tuscany, a Waterford crystal display and -- most significantly -- a $222,222.22 donation to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.
In closing, Jeter thanked his family and friends for their love and support over the years, saying that he was "blessed to play with the best" teammates, managers, coaches and trainers, then again expressed his gratitude to fans far and wide.
"You're playing as hard as you can and you're doing it for the fans," Jeter said. "Fans -- Yankee fans in particular -- pay attention. It means something to them. They push you. They've pushed me. They're hard, they're tough, but I think they've helped shape who I am. I wanted to have the opportunity to thank them. I don't think I can truly thank them enough."