"It was very, very surreal," said Jeter, his Yankees gray road uniform shed for one last time, replaced by a charcoal gray suit. "Yankee fans travel. Let's get that straight. They travel everywhere we go. But to have fans saying good things about you and have the other team's uniforms and hats on, it was awesome. It's why we play the game. You play the game hard and when you do that I think people have respect for you. They showed me that all year long and I appreciate it."
Watching an entire baseball career is much like sending your child off to college. You are witness to the ups and downs, the growth, the inevitable aging process. And when you are deep in it you think it will always be thus. But in the end, you look back in wonder. How could that all have happened so quickly? It was over in the blink of an eye.
And that's how Jeter went out for good during the third inning of Sunday's 9-5 Yankees win -- in the blink of an eye. A called strike, a ball, a foul into the stands, a high chopper that third baseman Garin Cecchini couldn't handle. As usual, Jeter ran hard down the first-base line, knocking in his 1,311th run with the infield hit.
Jeter said beforehand he wanted to take just two at-bats, but manager Joe Girardi looked toward him from the third-base side dugout with his arms open wide, asking in pantomime what he wanted to do. "Come out" was the answer, and Brian McCann jogged from the dugout as an unlikely pinch-runner.
The afternoon began with a superb ceremony resplendent with former Red Sox captains, plus great captains from other Boston sports teams: Bobby Orr of the Bruins, Troy Brown of the Patriots and Paul Pierce of the Celtics. Jeter had never met any of them. By the time the hugs, handshakes and ovations were finished after Jeter's last hit and he was back in the dugout, the clock read 2:27 p.m. ET and his 20-year Major League Baseball career was over. Just like that.
"I felt like the time was right," Jeter said. "I felt like I was all over the place Thursday in New York and by the time I got here I was ready. I was ready for my career to be over with. I was happy I was able to come here and play for a couple of games, but I'm ready for this to be the end."
Jeter finished as the top Yankee in all these categories: 3,465 hits, 2,747 games played, 544 doubles, 358 steals and as the only Yankee to play 20 contiguous seasons in New York. He is also second behind Babe Ruth with 1,923 runs scored and the all-time Major League leader with 200 postseason hits and 111 runs. His regular season hit total is sixth on the all-time Major League list and the most of any shortstop. These are all major accomplishments, not to mention the five World Series rings and seven American League pennants. But for Jeter, putting on the pinstripes was more than enough.
"For me, I'm happy to be known as a Yankee -- that's all I ever wanted to be, the shortstop for the New York Yankees -- and I had the opportunity to do that for parts of 20 years," he said. "To be remembered as a Yankee is good enough for me."
Girardi said he was obligated on Sunday morning to tell Jeter that with two more hits he'd have 150 on the season tying Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Pete Rose. That trio all had 18 seasons with 150 or more hits. It made no difference to Jeter, who smacked a solid liner snared by Boston shortstop Jemile Weeks in the first inning. No matter, he was locked in at taking only two at-bats.
"I've never been into the numbers," said Jeter, content to finish tied with Hank Aaron at 17 seasons with 150-plus hits. "So why should I start now?"
Jeter certainly was about the excitement and turmoil of the last six days. On Wednesday, the Yankees were eliminated from playoff contention. On Thursday night he played his final game at Yankee Stadium and one of few in his career in the Bronx that had no meaning as far as postseason consideration was concerned. Still, the house was packed and the hometown fans electric, chanting his name incessantly as the innings faded away and Jeter began to face the realization that his career was basically over.
His walk-off, game-winning single put a punctuation mark on an evening that will long be remembered in Yankee history.
"Look, you can't top what happened on Thursday," Jeter said. "I don't care if I came to Boston and I hit a home run in every single at-bat, hit four home runs while I was here. For me personally, I couldn't top what happened. New York has been a special place for me. The way that game ended, you couldn't have written that script. I wouldn't have bought into it."
Frankly, the trio of games at Fenway this weekend became an afterthought and Jeter knew it. Still, he took four at-bats as a designated hitter -- two each on Saturday and Sunday -- finishing with a pair of infield singles. As promised after the game on Thursday night, he never spent another second at shortstop, tallying 2,674 games played at that position.
The Red Sox put on a show, all three games were sold out and Jeter obliged.
"When I got here I was ready, ready for my career to be over with," he said. "I thought about not playing here. But I said I would play. A lot of fans told me that they came a long way to [see] these last games. I thought it was right to play here. You can't take that memory of what happened in New York away from me. I don't care if I played another three weeks. It's always going to be there. It's never going anywhere."
Neither is the memory of Jeter's entire career. Talk about impact. That's why the fans of Fenway were still chanting his name long after he was gone.