Derek Jeter played the position he always wanted in the city he always wanted, and on Sept. 25, 2014, he said goodbye in unforgettable fashion
By Alfred Santasiere III
Yankees Magazine |
The morning of Sept. 25, 2014, looked like any other rainy day in the South Bronx.
The skies above Yankee Stadium were gray and full of storm clouds, and a steady rain began soaking the outfield grass long before sunrise and continued to pour down through the afternoon hours.
There were breaks when the rain briefly subsided in the early part of the afternoon, but there was no doubt it was coming back, most likely heavier than before.
A day earlier, the Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles, 9-5, under a clear blue sky, and in dropping their 77th game of the regular season, they were eliminated from postseason contention.
All that remained in Derek Jeter's career in pinstripes was one more game. This would be the final time Jeter would take the field in front of the home crowd in a 20-year career that had been every bit as storied and impressive as any Yankee since Babe Ruth.
What would be Jeter's Stadium swan song? Would he be able to remain focused on the game through what was sure to be an emotional roller coaster? Would the game even be played?
As late afternoon approached, Yankees executives hoped that there would be a window of time in which to fit the game, but there was no guarantee that would happen. Forecasts still showed a greater than 60 percent chance of rain until nearly 10 p.m.
If rain kept the tarp on the field all night, the game likely would not have been made up because the playoff-bound Orioles would have had the opportunity to veto a return trip to New York for a game with no postseason implications.
At about 3 p.m., Jeter arrived in the players parking area and walked along an underground concourse to the home clubhouse.
"I almost started crying driving here today," Jeter said after the game. "I was by myself, so I could have lost it and no one would have seen it. I've done a good job of controlling my emotions during my career. I have them, but I try to trick myself into thinking that I'm not feeling those emotions. Today, I wasn't able to do that."
When Jeter got to his locker, there were more reporters in the clubhouse than on just about any other day in his career, and all anyone wanted on this afternoon was an anecdote from the man who, for 20 years, loathed talking about himself. After dropping off his belongings, he slipped back into the private area behind the locker room. When he returned, the nearly 150 journalists were still waiting.
"The only thing I've ever wanted to talk about is winning," Jeter said. "When there's particular attention on you, as opposed to the team, it can be uncomfortable. But I understand it, and I appreciate it."
Jeter nodded toward the writers, many of whom were still scrambling to get close enough to the soft-spoken captain to hear him. While his answers -- or non-answers -- to questions about how he would feel during his last game at Yankee Stadium and what emotions he would have when he would take off his pinstriped uniform for the last time matched those that he had given throughout the week, his demeanor was different.
It was clear that the ultraprivate Jeter was dealing with a rare rush of emotions, and he had nowhere to hide.
"That was tough," Jeter said a day later. "I didn't want to break down before the game, and I was trying to just get through those questions as quickly as I could.
"But the more I thought about everything, the more emotional I got," Jeter continued. "From the time I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was play shortstop for the New York Yankees, and now the reality was that the days of doing that were about to be over. That's not an easy thing to swallow."
After a few minutes, Yankees media relations staffers put a stop to the barrage of questions, giving Jeter a few moments to himself before he was faced with another emotional moment.
"My teammates presented me with a watch and a painting before the game," Jeter said. "Again, I almost lost it, and I had to turn away from them in order not to. At that point, I wasn't sure how effective I was going to be in the game."
While Jeter held back tears in the bowels of Yankee Stadium, the rain continued to fall in several neighborhoods surrounding the South Bronx. But with game time rapidly approaching, the dark sky over Yankee Stadium turned to a beautiful blue and orange canvas.
At 6:15 p.m. -- less than an hour before the game's scheduled first pitch -- a rainbow hovered over much of the Bronx, and for the first time all day, optimism filled the air in a ballpark that was filled with fans long before the start of the game.
Jeter took the field for a pregame ceremony a few minutes before 7 p.m., and following that, a video was played on the center-field videoboard in which several fans -- young and old -- thanked Jeter for his years with the Yankees. At the end of the video, Jeter reciprocated, thanking the fans. When Jeter appeared on the board, the crowd roared with applause.
"That was emotional," Jeter said. "I was hoping that the ball wasn't going to get hit to me after that. I had no idea what would have happened if it was."
Before the applause stopped, Jeter took the field. His teammates waited in the dugout until The Captain made his way to shortstop. Once he got there, the loud applause morphed into a continuous chant of Jeter's name.
A few seconds later, Jeter tipped his cap in every direction.
Even after he acknowledged the 48,613 fans in attendance, the cheers continued until Orioles leadoff hitter Nick Markakis took Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda deep. When the second batter of the game, Alejandro De Aza, gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead with a home run of his own, the Stadium got quiet, if only for a brief time.
Following the home runs, Kuroda retired the next three Orioles in order to get out of the first.
Beginning with Brett Gardner, who eschewed his customary country music for Puff Daddy, each Yankees batter came to the plate to walk-up songs that Jeter had selected for himself over the years.
Gardner quickly got things going for the Yankees with a single. As the center fielder rounded first base, the crowd's enthusiasm returned.
With the fans standing, the voice of the Yankees' late public-address announcer Bob Sheppard echoed throughout the Stadium.
"Now batting for the Yankees, No. 2, Derek Jeter, No. 2."
Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman stepped off the mound to allow the fans time to applaud Jeter. The applause softened, and Jeter took four pitches. Then, with a 3-1 count, the 40-year-old lined a 95-mph fastball to left-center field. The baseball nearly cleared the fence, but instead hit the padded wall a few feet below the top for an RBI double.
When Jeter got to second base, the Stadium was shaking with the noise from the crowd. Jeter clapped his hands and again tipped his cap.
Jeter advanced to third base on a wild pitch to Brian McCann and then scored the tying run on a ground ball to the Orioles second baseman, Kelly Johnson. Jeter had less success in his next two at-bats, hitting into a fielder's choice in the second and striking out in the fifth.
In the seventh, Jeter came to the plate with a chance to put his team on top. With the game still tied 2-2 and the bases loaded, Jeter grounded an 0-1 pitch from right-hander Ryan Webb to shortstop J.J. Hardy. Hardy fielded the ball and threw to second in an attempt to start an inning-ending double play. But in his haste to get the ball to second, Hardy threw it into right field. Two runs scored on the error, and Jeter made it safely to first base.
It appeared that Jeter's final at-bat in pinstripes would go down in the books as somewhat of a curious -- if fitting -- moment. He didn't get a hit, but as he had done so many times before, he put his team in position to win.
"I was OK with that," Jeter said. "We were winning, and I was happy with that being my last at-bat."
Jeter was met with a standing ovation when he took the field in the top of the eighth, and after the first out was recorded, the famed Bleacher Creatures in right field began chanting, "Thank you, Derek." A few minutes later, Jeter waved his glove toward them, and the chant slowly died down.
Later in the inning, McCann called for time. As the catcher trotted to the mound, the entire Stadium broke into the same chant.
"I don't know of too many other occupations where there's more than 40,000 people chanting your name," Jeter said. "When the fans were chanting, 'Thank you, Derek,' I was thinking that they were the ones I want to thank. They're the ones who make this special."
With the ninth inning set to begin, Jeter made his last run from the home dugout to shortstop, this time amid a standing ovation.
Yankees closer David Robertson took the mound with his team ahead, 5-2. The crowd remained on its feet as the inning got underway and continued chanting Jeter's name.
Robertson walked Markakis to start the inning. After striking out De Aza, the closer gave up a two-run homer to Adam Jones, making the score 5-4. Robertson came back to strike out Nelson Cruz for the second out of the inning, but he was unable to end the game a batter later.
Robertson, who had converted 38 saves in 42 opportunities entering the game, surrendered his second home run of the inning. First baseman Steve Pearce may have tied the game for the Orioles, but he also gave Jeter one more opportunity at the plate.
Jose Pirela led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, and the speedy Antoan Richardson replaced him on the basepaths. Gardner followed Pirela to the plate and laid down a sacrifice bunt that put Richardson on second base.
In what seemed more like a scripted movie than an actual baseball game, Jeter, whom the entire baseball community had been celebrating since his retirement announcement in February, now had the chance to be the hero in his last game in Yankee Stadium.
Jeter wasted no time in seizing the moment, swinging at the first pitch from Orioles reliever Evan Meek and hitting it sharply between first and second base for an opposite-field single.
Richardson rounded third and raced toward home. Markakis, who fielded the ball in right field, threw a one-hopper to the plate, but the throw arrived late and Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph couldn't field it cleanly.
As the home plate umpire signaled that Richardson was safe, Jeter leaped into the air with his arms above his head. For the first time in the emotionally draining night, Jeter was smiling from ear to ear.
By the time Jeter's feet hit the ground, his teammates and coaches had made their way out to him on the infield dirt. The captain embraced every one of them in a nearly five-minute celebration.
During that time, several former Yankees -- many of whom Jeter played alongside in the Minor Leagues and then won championships with in New York -- were escorted onto the field.
With stoic looks on their faces, Bernie Williams, Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Tino Martinez and Gerald Williams stood in front of the Yankees dugout, patiently waiting for Jeter to make his way toward them.
"I didn't know they were coming onto the field," Jeter said. "It took me a while to get over there because I was hugging all of my teammates. When I realized they were out there, I was overwhelmed. Those guys are my brothers, and Mr. T is like a second father to me. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them. We've had a lot of success, and we've shared a lot of memories together. This is one last memory that we got to share together."
After the captain noticed his former teammates and manager, he hugged each of them before walking back to the shortstop position, where he crouched down.
"I say a little prayer before every game, and when I got out to short, I just said thank you because this is all I've ever wanted to do and not too many get an opportunity to do it. It was above and beyond anything I've ever dreamed of. I've lived a dream, and that dream is over now."
When he returned to the area in front of the Yankees dugout, Jeter spent a few minutes with his immediate family.
"My family has been here often throughout the years," Jeter said. "They're the ones who have helped me through the tough times. They played every game with me, whether they were on the field or not. It was special to be with them on the field after the game."
Before leaving the field for the last time, Jeter addressed the crowd and took one more walk to his familiar shortstop position on the diamond, this time with Frank Sinatra's "My Way" blasting throughout the Stadium.
"I wanted to take one last view from short," said Jeter, who served as the team's designated hitter during the final series of the season in Boston. "I decided to take something special from Yankee Stadium, and that view was it. Tonight was my last game playing shortstop. I've only played shortstop, and I wanted tonight to be the last time I did that."
Torre -- who managed Jeter for the first 12 full seasons of his career, four of which ended with World Series titles -- was waiting for him in the dugout. The two embraced before Jeter disappeared into the home clubhouse for the final time.
"Just like a lot of other things tonight, that certainly wasn't planned," Torre said. "All the other guys were leaving, and I noticed that Derek was going back onto the field, and I wanted to take that all in. I didn't realize he was going to be back in the dugout so quickly, and I didn't expect to be there when he came off the field. I was glad I was there because it was a special time for me.
"What he represents, we don't have enough of in sports," Torre continued. "I'm not just talking about his ability to play baseball, but also what he represents as a man. Sports will cry out for more people as respectful as Derek Jeter."
The way such an imperfect day turned out so perfectly will be celebrated for as long as baseball is played. The journey began when an emotional Jeter drove to the Stadium in a rainstorm and ended with him winning the game. It was as improbable as it was magical.
In a lot of ways, it mirrored a longer journey that began when a kid with New Jersey roots first dreamed of playing shortstop for the New York Yankees and ended with him tipping his cap one last time from the shortstop position at Yankee Stadium.
Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the Derek Jeter Commemorative Edition of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.