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Baseball will miss Jeter's class, humility most

Retiring shortstop, Michigander, honored in pregame ceremony in Detroit

DETROIT -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked Wednesday who would take over the leadership role with his club next season after Derek Jeter has retired.

The larger question would be: Who is going to take Jeter's place as baseball's primary role model, as the game's unofficial but leading ambassador to the rest of humanity?

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Another ritual in the march of Jeter's final season occurred Wednesday night at Comerica Park as the Detroit Tigers honored Jeter. There have been standing ovations and tributes and gifts at every stop on the road for Jeter this season, and deservedly so.

This one may have had more emotional content for Jeter since his family moved to Michigan from New Jersey when he was 4 years old. Jeter grew up in Kalamazoo. Thus, he is, as they say here, "a Michigander."

Girardi, by the way, said that the leadership question was one for next year and that right now he was very busy trying to manage the Yanks into the postseason. Retirement honors aside, Jeter was an integral part of their playoff push Wednesday night.

In the second inning, Jeter ranged far to his left, snagging a grounder up the middle by Nick Castellanos. Then he finished the classic play, spinning behind second base and throwing a strike to first for the out.

In the top of the third, Jeter delivered an RBI double for the Yankees' first run of the game. Nine straight Yanks hit safely against David Price, which seemed a bit on the miraculous side. As the 11th hitter in the inning, Jeter delivered another RBI with a sacrifice fly to center. The Yankees, with eight runs in the third, went on to an 8-4 victory.

As much as any player in the contemporary game, Jeter has the respect and admiration of the opposition. And why not?

"He has played on the brightest stage in baseball for basically two decades and has represented the game of baseball probably as well as almost anyone who has ever played the game, in the history of the game," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. "And he's as classy a guy and as tough a competitor as I have ever seen. He deserves all the praise that he's getting.

"He's been the single classiest act in the game the last two decades, as well as a tremendous clutch performer. Early in his career, people would say: 'Oh, if Derek Jeter played in Milwaukee, he wouldn't be that good.' That's a farce. This guy's a baseball player through and through. He plays the game the right way. He's never stopped playing the game the right way. He's a winner's winner."

All the records, all the achievements, the five World Series championships, are there to be admired.

"It's way bigger than that," Price said of Jeter's accomplishments. "It's about the way he's carried himself."

There are countless stories of young players being treated with respect by Jeter, an interaction that invariably gave the young player a feeling of acceptance and belonging. This kind of thing was no accident.

"I have always tried to treat people with respect, because I want to be treated with respect," Jeter said. "When I came up, I was never treated like a rookie. I was on a team that was going to the World Series for the first time in quite some time. People knew that I had a responsibility and therefore, they treated me as an equal. I've always tried to treat people the same way.

"When you meet people, at times you can forget what they say, but I don't think you ever forget how they make you feel. So I've always tried to make people as comfortable as possible."

In the pregame ceremony honoring Jeter, the Tigers presented him with a $5,000 check to his charity, the Turn 2 Foundation. He received two seats from old Tiger Stadium and Tigers president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski unveiled paintings, representing three stages of Jeter's baseball career in Michigan; in high school, playing at Tiger Stadium and playing at Comerica Park.

Hall of Famer Al Kaline and Tigers legend Willie Horton were on hand, letting you know that this was a high-priority event for the Detroit organization. Jeter's high school coach, his parents and his sister were all in attendance.

"I thought it was very nice that [the Tigers] involved my family and our leadership program from Kalamazoo," Jeter said of the ceremony. "We appreciate it a lot. It was a class act by a class organization. Our foundation means a lot to us, and for them to include it meant a lot to us."

After this season, it won't be just the Yankees missing Derek Jeter. It will be all of baseball.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Derek Jeter