When Derek Jeter first came into the Baseball world, I was a newly turned 6 year old living just outside of New York City in a Jersey suburb. My dad grew up a Yankee fan, idolizing DiMaggio and Mantle, so obviously my team was chosen for me before I even knew what baseball was. I don’t remember my first baseball game - I’ve rooted for the Yankees for as long as I can remember. For more than half my life, Jeter has been the shortstop.
My love for Jeter has gone through many stages over the past 20 years. When I was a kid, he was simply the new shortstop who helped the Yankees dominate the late 90s. Somewhere around when I turned 10 years old, I was at a game with my dad and from the upper deck, third baseline I watched Jeter make an amazing play and something clicked in my head: I was in love.
This marks the beginning of what might’ve been an unhealthy obsession with Jeter. Like lots of girls my age, I wanted to grow up and marry Derek Jeter. I started learning everything about him over the next few years. It didn’t help that I was going through Middle School and becoming a boy crazed pre-teen. I read his biography, “The Life You Imagine”, I memorized mundane facts like his family’s names, his favorite foods, the fact he was named after a hockey player, even his hat size. His hat size! When in my life will I ever need to know that Derek Jeter wears a 7 1/4 size hat? I guess I was an incredibly bored kid and had a lot of time to memorize all of this information, most of which I still remember to this day. I never memorized statistics because any normal fan can memorize stats. I was his future wife! I needed to know about his personal life, duh. When he hosted SNL in 2001, I taped it on VHS and watched it so many times that I can still recite every line from every sketch he was in. “He looks like if the Rock had sex with a muppet.” Classic. (Sidenote: Shakira ad BubbaSparxx were the musical guests, so 2001). My room was filled with Jeter posters and newspaper covers. One year for Christmas, I got a life size Jeter cardboard cutout that still stands in the corner of my childhood bedroom because I can’t stand to part with it. I started a Jeter scrapbook full of headlines and articles to show my future grandkids. I have a vivid memory of one time when a friend tore up a poster of Jeter in front of me and I cried. I CRIED.
Oh, so many tears have been shed over #2. Before a game at Yankee Stadium once, I stood along the first baseline where he warms up and could’ve SWORN he looked over at me. We made eye contact. In a sea of thousands of fans, his eyes found mine… I’m pretty sure. Anyway, I cried. (My dad witnessed this and still teases me about it). When my sister met him in a bar in Manhattan, I was so jealous, I cried. It just wasn’t fair!! How dare she be a hip adult while I sit, underage, in my friend’s basement watching The Incredibles. Then, the next day, when she gave me a bar napkin with his autograph made out to me, I cried again. (She still makes fun of me for this as well). I’ve given my sister a lot over the years, but I will forever be indebted to her for a bar napkin.
It was somewhere in the mid-2000s when I entered the next stage of my Jeter obsession. I was finally growing more mature. I started accepting the fact I may not marry Derek after all, and I was okay with it (I guess, whatever). I remember taking one of many tours of the old Yankee Stadium when I overheard a guy pointing out a spot in the dugout to his young son. “That’s where Derek Jeter sits”. I was so blinded by my obsession that I didn’t even stop to realize that outside of my own mind, Jeter was becoming something of a Yankee legend. My dad always raved about what a legend Mantle was, and now here I am, experiencing the Mickey Mantle of my generation! (without the severe alcoholism issues…).
I like to think that this was the point I joined the rest of the sane people who admired Jeter in a healthy, Yankee-fan kind of way. Once you recognize how rare a player like Jeter is, your appreciation shifts. There’s been enough talk about it over the past year so I’m not going to get into that. I understand people get fed up. There are non-Jeter fans out there, like my Phillies fan boyfriend, who has rolled his eyes every time anything revolving around Jeter has come on television or into conversation. I get it. It’s the same reason why I can’t get into football. Because god forbid I do anything else on a Sunday while NFL fanatics are screaming about how amazing Sunday Funday and football is. So I assume that’s how a lot of people feel about Derek Jeter’s lavish retirement tour. And sure, we could argue about his career and whether or not he’s the best shortstop ever, but that’s not what I’m trying to get into here.
His last home game in the Bronx was rough for all Jeter fans. I stayed late at work in fear of missing out on any precious moments while driving home so I watched it on my computer with tears in my eyes for the last 3 innings straight and sobbed like a baby when it ended. Every time the camera cut to Derek’s family I thought to myself, “Oh, there’s his mom, Dorothy, and his sister Sharlee. And of course Dr. Charles Jeter, too.” Laughing at myself as I thought about the 13 year old version of me. My dad called me as soon as the game was over to make sure I was okay and, like it typically does, our conversation shifted back to baseball and as we shared our predictions for this year’s World Series matchup.
If you know me at all, you know I couldn’t not say something about Derek Jeter before this was all over. My Jeter obsession has become something like an extension of my personality. People who knew me in high school jokingly texted me recently to say they’ve been thinking of me as all the Jeter hype winds down. My boyfriend has tried to keep my feet on the ground when I start gushing over Jeter but I refuse. “Just let it happen!” I yell.
And well, I guess that’s it. He’s always been there and now he won’t be. Someone else will have to play shortstop next year and frankly I feel kinda bad for that guy. Whether it’s Stephen Drew or Troy Tulowitzki, their performance will never compare. I’m pretty excited to dust off that old scrapbook I started when I was a kid and tell my children all about the Derek Jeter era. Maybe they’ll even ask me what his hat size was.