Sunday, July 10, 2011

Derek Jeter's Moment Was Ours

Being a fan can be very difficult, especially when it comes to baseball. Say you are a fan of Peyton Manning. He may have some bad moments, but he's going to succeed about 65 percent of the time. Or you might be a fan of Kobe Bryant. He's going to succeed about 50 percent of the time. But in baseball, failure for the best players will occur some 60 percent of the time. And that's just at the plate. There is also fielding and there is base running. Being a fan of Derek Jeter has been tough for quite some time now.

As this Fan has written before, the problem with Derek Jeter is that he plays for the biggest team in sports. As such, he makes much more money than he can earn and he gets much more press than anyone in the game. If you are a thinking fan of the game, the press is impossible in either case. Either it is hyperbolic on the positive, which is cringe-worthy or it's hyperbolic on the negative, which is depressing. He's either the greatest winner sports has ever known, or he's a complete fraud who wins Gold Gloves he shouldn't win. It's a no win situation. Read any post about Jeter and you get both sides in spades. Don't believe that? Read these two wonderful (and fair) posts about the guy. One is by the great Joe Posnanski and the other by the nearly as great, Steve Slowinski. The comments will prove out the hyperbole.

But if you are a fan, then you have an emotional attachment. It becomes personal. If you are a thoughtful fan, you understand the player's weaknesses and love him anyway. There are some players that simply catch your imagination and don't let go. Derek Jeter fits that category for this writer. And when you watch the entire career from beginning to end, it's almost parental. You get to see the player cutting teeth and making rookie mistakes. You get the best years when the player truly blossoms into someone whose play thrills and tickles the insides. And then you get the old age and the decline and there is a sadness with some appreciation and ruefulness. It's like having one of those lifetime dogs you get as a puppy and then watch it grow old and decrepit.

For fans of Derek Jeter, we know he doesn't go to his left well at shortstop. You don't get many highlight reel plays at short. But if a grounder was hit to him, you never once worried he wouldn't make the play. He was steady like that. When you a fan of Derek Jeter, you know that some of those incredible post season plays were simply part of the odds with the number of post season games he played. But that knowledge didn't thrill the fan any less when he made them. As a batter, we knew he didn't produce as many runs as say an Alex Rodriguez or even a Nomar Garciaparra during his great years. But he was always there with that inside-outside swing getting his hits, stealing some bases, getting dirty. He was there with the fist pump at the end of wins.

He was the Captain, a mantle he seemed to wear well. He survived longer as a Yankee than Ruth or Mantle. He was a part of five championships. And as Mr. Posnanski noted so well, his day in and day out grind that helped him reach yesterday's milestone was never ending and there's something to be said about that. Even in his last two years, when he hasn't been the great Derek Jeter, he's a good deal better than a lot of other players in baseball. And we'll take that. The way that Biggio limped into his 3,000 hits garnered negative comments too and that had to bother his fans. But it wasn't close to the negativity that has surrounded Jeter's road to 3,000.

For this thinking fan of Derek Jeter, yesterday's explosion couldn't have been better. He didn't reach the milestone with yet another weak grounder to third. He got there with a 420-foot homer. There were style points for that. Yes, it will add to the hyperbole, but this fan doesn't care. All this fan cares about is that he got there and his fans got to savor the moment and revel in it. The climb is over. Derek Jeter has been this Fan's favorite player for fifteen years. This Fan still dismisses the over-praise and the critics still hurt when they are unkind. But that doesn't take away the joy of this moment. It is by far the sweetest moment of the year.

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