As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I have spent years cringing at the sight of Derek Jeter approaching the plate, and have sat through many collective groans from the Fenway natives after a signature Jeter jump-throw or a clutch at bat.
Despite this, and my constant, seemingly uncontrollable desire for the Yankees to lose, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Captain. You did not have to be a sports fan in 2014 to know that this was Jeter’s final year in pinstripes. Derek Jeter transcends what it means to be a professional athlete; he has become a cultural icon. The number two is universally associated with the Captain, and will likely be retired in the near future.
His accomplishments on the field are rivaled only by those off the field. In 1996, fresh of a season in which he earned American League Rookie of the Year honors, Jeter founded the Turn 2 Foundation. Still running strong today, the organization’s goal has remained constant: “to create and support signature programs and activities that motivate young people to turn away from drugs and alcohol and ‘TURN 2’ healthy lifestyles.” Coming from humble beginnings in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jeter witnessed firsthand the value of community service. His favorite player, former Yankee Dave Winfield, had started his own foundation to promote and support healthy lifestyles. Jeter’s bold choice to start a large foundation after just one year of professional baseball reflects his character. He was a man who would leap at any opportunity to help promote and benefit teenagers’ health.
On the field there has never been a player quite as consistent and clutch as Jeter. Unlike many of his competitors, Jeter rarely displayed much emotion on the field. For eighteen years he remained calm, cool, and collected, maintaining his composure on some of the grandest stages in sports. The Captain has achieved a slew of accolades throughout his career: five World Series rings, Rookie of the Year, All Star Game MVP, World Series MVP, four time gold glover, six time silver slugger, and more. With a career .310 batting average, Jeter joined an elite group of players in the 3,000 hit club. Jeter can no doubt be placed among the all time greats on his statistical merit alone. However, when asked what makes Jeter one of the best, fans, analysts, and other players all rarely seem to site saber metrics, but rather the regularity of his clutch, baseball I.Q., and passion, to define Jeter as a baseball legend.
There are countless plays throughout Jeter’s career that represent his prowess: the leadoff homerun on the first pitch of the 2000 World Series, the diving catch into the stands in July 2004 vs. the rival Red Sox, the walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series that earned him the title “Mr. November”, or perhaps his most notable defensive play, the flip throw during the 2001 ALDS vs. the Athletics.
However, no one play, no one stat, no one charity event, can truly encompass the legacy of Derek Jeter. So what exactly is Jeter’s legacy?
It is walking down the New York streets and seeing both a six-year-old and a seventy-year-old wearing the number two on their back. It is the kids who depend on Jeter’s organization to help them stay healthy, and the millions of children around the world who wake up every morning and stare at the Jeter poster on their wall. It is the Red Sox, the Yankees fiercest rival, offering some free tickets to all Yankees fans for Jeter’s last game. It is the world tweeting and re-tweeting “RE2PECT”. It is his walk-off single in his final home game. It is witnessing Yankee stadium, the city, and the world erupt as we all pay homage to one of not only the greatest players, but of the greatest ambassadors to the game of baseball and professional sports as a whole.