Derek Jeter isn’t Hollywood because he plays to the cameras and is an attention monger. Similar to a leading man in a 20-year blockbuster soap opera, everything in his baseball life has been scripted to perfection. The difference is, his endings are usually real-life scenarios that appear too perfect to have occurred naturally.
You can run down the line of improbable, dramatic, clutch and heroic Jeter moments throughout his star-studded career, and like the true icons of baseball, he’s had a couple of memorable performances in his 14 All-star appearances, the last of which played out in typical Jeter fashion on Tuesday night at Target Field in Minnesota.
The $545 million, limestone-encased jewel that opened in 2010 will forever be known as the palace where "The Great Derek Jeter" (retiring at the end of this season) got his last two All-Star Game hits in leading the American League to a 5-3 victory over the National League squad. In a game that was all about generational change and iconic metamorphosis, the AL improved to 9-3 since the All-Star Game started deciding which league gets World Series home-field advantage and sustained nearly two decades of dominance for its 13th win in 17 years.
Jeter, who has participated in most of those 13 wins, set the festivities off with a web gem in the top of the first inning, making a diving stop of an Andrew McCutchen groundball, which McCutchen just barely beat out for an infield hit. It reminded me of how Magic Johnson always let the NBA fans know that the All-Star game was something magnificently unique, by setting the mood with a sick no look pass. Or a one-bounce cross court bullet to some NBA dunk master.
Everyone but the first-place umpire wanted McCutchen to get called out. Jeter didn’t get the punch, but it was still vintage DJ. Just a bit older and a second slower on the draw.
The glove love was just a warmup, however. In typical fashion, Jeter struck first in a game of younger All-Stars and showed them how it’s done when the lights are. Then he reminded heads why he is ninth place on the all-time MLB hit list and leads off the first by ripping a double to right field and eventually scoring the game’s first run on a Mike Trout triple off the wall.
Trout, the anointed heir apparent to Jeter’s iconic throne took the baton from the Yankees great with a Jeter-like flair. Trout finished second to Cabrera in AL MVP voting in each of the past two seasons, but on Tuesday night the 22-year-old phenom strengthened his bid for best player in the world by becoming the youngest All-Star MVP, about 3 1/2 months younger than Ken Griffey Jr. was in 1992.
While Trout got his head fitted for the crown after adding a go-ahead double later in the game, Jeter didn’t bow out quietly. After all, he was still on the clock and in a dugout interview during the game Jeter said, “With an organization like the Yankees if you don’t do your job they’ll just replace you, so every day I went out there fighting for my job.”
That kind of pressure crushed a lot of potentially great NY ballers, but it inspired Jeter to always give max effort and never take anything for granted. In the third inning he exhibited more of that flair for the dramatic, poking an opposite field single and advancing to second on a wild pitch. Everything you needed to know about Derek Jeter was on display in his final three innings of All-Star work. Two hits, a run scored, some lethal leather flashing and the grace of a decorated Prince.
Jeter finishes his All-Star Game career with a sparkling .481 average (13 for 27). He pointed to the N.L. dugout as he left the diamond, pausing before the baseline and then leaping over it into a new phase of life.
Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared over boisterous stadium speakers, although Jay-Z and Alisha Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” would have been more appropriate. Still, it was a send off MLB's most high and most humble deserves. Not to detract from the brilliance and dignified manner of other great shortstops and ambassadors of the game, but I couldn’t see Jeter running around the entire stadium high-fiving fans as Cal Ripken Jr. did when he broke Lou Gehrig’s Ironman streak.
Even when St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright and sideline reporter Erin Andrews tried to sully the moment a bit by suggesting that Wainwright went easy on DJ as a “departing gift, ” Jeter’s reply was quintessential “Jete”, strong but humble and non-offensive with a tint of sarcasm. “I don’t know, man,” he chuckled. “If he grooved it, thank you. You’ve still got to hit it. I appreciate that, if that’s what he did.”
When you talk about shining on the big stage, in many sports fans eyes, only Michael Jordan's penchant for the impossible in the most magnified moments compares to Jeter's. He wore the No. 2 like a target on his back and an emphatic numerical symbol of his baseball life; as a player Jeter stands second only to God. From his impeccable character to his exemplary play, to his quiet leadership abilities, choosing to walk the walk rather than toss a tinsletown tongue game.
When ESPN announcer Tim Kurkjian informed Jeter that he was the “oldest guy ever to have a multi-hit game in the All-Star Game, “ as usual, Jeter downplayed the record and refused to acknowledge that being 40 in baseball means he’s old in life. “I still feel young, Tim,” Jeter insisted. “I’m still a kid at heart.”
No player in the last 15 years has influenced more young bucs than Jeter. Trout is from New Jersey just like his idol No. 2. He and fellow All-Star Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon both patented their games after Jeter. LA Angels infielder Erick Aybar, who made the AL All-Star Team as an injury replacement for Alex Gordon, says he wears No. 2 because the only games he got to see as a kid growing up in Dominican Republic were Yankees games. Watching Jeter maneuver served Aybar well as a youth and helped him rise like a rocket and out of a baseball infested DR.
Target Field’s 2014 All-Star Game – the 85th in MLB history – marks the end of a very significant Era. The Jeter years wil be reflected on favorably as a time in baseball history when a flawless man with a flawless game carried baseball through shame with dignified glory. He not only represented the MLB brand. He became the brand and never let a fan, owner, coach, manger, teammate (or female companion) down. He never had a gambling problem, a drug dependency, a public spat or smashed his car into a pole.
One anecdote about Jeter is that whenever he went out and had even a single beer, he wouldn’t ever drive home. Tells you all you need to know about his level of all-around dedication, discipline and respect for the game. Excellence such as his doesn’t always appear in the numbers, although he’s got tons of records to gangsta lean on. For anyone to even jokingly refer to him as overrated shows a complete ignorance and disrespect towards the game. Just a bad job all around, but that’s understandable. It’s the complete opposite of who Derek Jeter is –nothing short of magnificent on his worst day.