NEW YORK -- A little girl walked up to Derek Jeter on Wednesday morning and told him without hesitation, "My mommy said you were her favorite player." He smiled at her, handed her a stuffed backpack as a holiday gift, and replied, "Tell your mommy I said thanks."
Just wait until Mother's Day next year.
There will be a lot of those memories, a lot of tears, a lot of smiles, a lot of swoons and a lot of "thanks" for being the most prominent face of baseball over a generation. On that day, May 14, the Yankees will retire the iconic No. 2 jersey and add Jeter's plaque to Monument Park.
Before surprising more than 200 children from across the five boroughs as part of his Turn 2 Foundation's annual Holiday Express event, Jeter -- in classic humility -- talked about what the Mother's Day event will mean. He harkened back to 1996, when he was inspired by Dave Winfield to start his foundation and when all he wanted to do was build a career.
"Yes, it's pretty special," Jeter said at the Chelsea Piers Fieldhouse, talking about the ceremony plans. "My dream was always to play shortstop for the Yankees. Everything that came along with it wasn't a part of the dream. When I first came up in '96, my goal was just to stay here as long as possible. I never thought about having a number retired or anything.
"It's kind of hard to believe. I was asked this question last night, and I have no idea. Just sort of going into it and see what happens. But it's a huge honor."
Jeter will become the sixth uniformed member of the last Yankees dynasty to have his jersey retired. In 2013, Mariano Rivera's No. 42 was retired. Joe Torre (No. 6) was retired in '14, and then there was the trio of Bernie Williams (No. 51), Jorge Posada (No. 20) and Andy Pettitte (No. 46) in '15. This past August, there was also a plaque ceremony for Rivera.
After being through so many of those ceremonies as either a player or a distinguished guest, Jeter knows well enough what the moment is like. But when asked if being around his buddies then would help his 2017 speech, he shook his head and said, "I wasn't listening to what they were saying out there. I was just messing around."
Seriously, there is only one Jeter. Remember, he already has given one famous speech in Yankee Stadium history: the last one at the old ballpark. It was not a prepared speech. He would prefer to emulate moments like that, to simply let the moment come to him. Who else could have scripted the kind of game-winning hit in his final at-bat at the Stadium?
"I don't want to be prepared for it," he said of the jersey retirement ceremony. "I just want to enjoy it. It's a special day, and they have it on Mother's Day, which was big for me. Yeah, I'm just trying to go into it and see what happens."
No one needs to tell him what it means. In those 20 years with the Yankees, he spent sufficient time wandering through Monument Park, breathing it in.
"Yeah, I've been out there. I mean, I wasn't thinking about me being out there," he said. "You're taking in the history, especially at the old stadium, and then at the new stadium as well. So I've spent some time out there.
"There's more history with the Yankee organization than a lot of teams put together. In my mind, it's the greatest organization in all of sports. Some of the greatest players to ever play this game have put on a Yankee uniform. So to have the opportunity to have your number retired is not something I ever thought of, so I don't know what to expect when that day comes.
"It still seems like it's kind of far off, so I can't really picture myself being there. But I'm looking forward to it. I know my entire family is."
When asked what it will mean to be a part of Monument Park, he said, "It's a lot of history, a lot of stories. You know, I had a pretty close relationship with Yogi [Berra], and to have an opportunity to listen to a lot of those stories that he told me about a lot of those players that are out there, it's fun. I've always been a sponge for knowledge, I've tried to learn as much as I could about the organization, from a young age on, so it doesn't get any better than that."
There is a remarkable parallel between Jeter the player and Jeter the humanitarian. While the former is going to be under great public spotlight again next May, the latter was doing what he has done so often behind the scenes along with his family and colleagues. They are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Turn 2, dating back to December of 1996.
Jeter was just coming off his first World Series title, the six-game comeback victory over the Braves, and he went home to Kalamazoo, Mich., and they went to work on Turn 2.
"I did it basically because I was a huge Dave Winfield fan," Jeter said of the Hall of Famer and former Yankees star. "He was one of the first athletes to start his own foundation, at a time when not too many athletes had them. That was the inspiration for it.
"It was a small family foundation when we started. We just wanted to help out a few people, but we never thought it would grow to what it is today. We've given back over $23 million to this point. We want to continue the foundation. The only reason we've been able to do it is because we got so much support from the communities here in New York, in Michigan and down in Florida. So we want to continue it, but we didn't think it would grow this big.
"My dad deserves a lot of credit, my sister, who has taken over the day-to-day operations a few years back, deserves a lot of credit. So hopefully it's something we'll always continue."
The Holiday Express event is intended to reward young people in Turn 2 programs who are demonstrating positive behavior, academic excellence and leadership qualities in their schools and communities.
The children participated in a variety of activities, including basketball, soccer, batting cages, gymnastics, tumbling and rock wall climbing. Then Jeter surprised them on the soccer field, greeting them amid screams that pierced the expanse:
"So we want to say on behalf of my entire family and the Turn 2 Foundation, Happy Holidays, and get a chance to meet each and every one of you and give you a small gift."
Jeter then handed out the gifts with Santa and his elves from the New York Jeter's Leaders program. Each child received a special holiday gift bag containing items donated by the Yankees and sponsors of the Turn 2 Foundation, including Haddad Brands and Simon & Schuster. The gift bags were assembled on Dec. 1 at Yankee Stadium by high school students from the New York Jeter's Leaders program.
"Everyone wants to have a legacy on the field, I guess, when you're talking about an athlete," Jeter said. "But our legacy I think is much more important with what we've been able to do in the community. That means quite a bit to us."
When his legacy is memorialized next Mother's Day, what will his plaque and No. 2 represent to ballplayers and fans who while away time there in future decades?
"I don't know. I just always wanted to be known as a player who had respect for the game, respect for my teammates and my opponents, the media, the fans, the organization," Jeter said. "To me, it means a lot. Whenever I was a Yankee, the only job I ever wanted was to play shortstop for the Yankees. That's good enough for me."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.