It just seems fitting that a year after soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera retires, Derek Jeter is set to do the same. The final part of the core-four that was Pettitte, Posada, Mo and Jeter.
But then again, his entire career has been just that. "Fitting."
It's only fitting that the skinny shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan (by way of Pequannock, New Jersey) went 0-for-6 before recording his first Major League hit when he was called up by the Yankees in 1995. Only fitting that in his full rookie year of 1996, the Yankees win their first World Series since 1978. Only fitting that he sparked the Yankees dynasty run of four World Series titles in a five-year span (1996, 98-2000), being named the World Series MVP in 2000 against (none other than) the cross-town rival New York Mets.
It's only fitting that his 3,000th career hit came on a home run. To left field. At home. Against AL East rival Tampa Bay. Against their ace left-hander David Price.
He also went 5-for-5 that game with three singles and a double on top of the historic homer.
Only fitting that his game winning home run in game four of the 2001 World Series not only made him Mr. November, but also came on a full count with two out in the bottom of the 10th, just after midnight.
And only fitting that he's dated some of the hottest women on the face of this earth. And they all still love the guy. As does everyone in baseball.
And only fitting that the face of the Yankee franchise, let alone baseball, really doesn't want much of the attention. Never has really.
But when November 2014 comes around, and the baseball season is over, baseball will be forever changed again. Because in the spring of 2015, there won't be a pinstriped, navy blue number two running onto the shortstop position in the Bronx. No more voice of Bob Sheppard, now through a recording announcing "now batting, the shortstop number two, Derek Jeter. Number two."
Maybe it's more ironic that in a time that baseball was about to explode, for the good and the bad, that a skinny shortstop would have the impact that only Jeter has had. Also ironic in a sense that hit number one comes off a single past the third baseman against Seattle pitcher Tim Belcher, while hit 3,000 comes on a solo home run.
It was never about his power numbers (never hit more than 25 home runs in a season), or the accolades (never won the AL MVP or a batting title), but it was more about reliability with Jeter. He played in over 150 games in 13 of the next 16 years following his '95 debut, maintaining a .312 career batting average throughout his 18 year career.
He never went for the individual accolades, instead reaching for the team accolades: five World Series rings in seven World Series appearances (lost in Arizona in 2001 and to Florida in 2003.).
From 1989-94, over 900 players came up to the bigs. Not a single one had 3,000 hits. When Jeter came up to the Bronx in 1995, he arrive in the beginning one of the greatest slugging eras in the game's history. In the next 10 years following Jeter's arrival, Major League Baseball saw 50 home runs hit 18 times, mainly due to steroids, more rigorous training regiments and expansion.
Jeter, never got involved. With any of it. Baseball's kid, if you want to call him that, stuck with the same everything that got him to where he was. Same bat (Louisville slugger P72) he used since his days in the minors, same inside-out swing and the same winning attitude that even made MLB Comissioner Bud Selig say "In the 21-plus years in which I have served as Commissioner, Major League Baseball has had no finer ambassador than Derek Jeter.”
True. In an age where social media has enhanced pro athletes stardom, while also making them crash and burn, Jeter's just enhanced through time and advancement. He's easily baseball's most recognized athlete, even pre-social media, much like in the way Joe DiMaggio was back in the 1940's-50's. And remember, DiMaggio wasn't really seen as much back then as Jeter is today.
It'll be a while before we, literally, see another legend among the likes of Derek Jeter again in baseball. With free agency and player trading as much of a fad as MySpace was back in the day, there won't be another player to have a 20-year career with just one team anymore. Let alone, one player who simply let his success speak for himself, while embracing the hit and misses of a baseball career, both literally and figuratively with such class.
Jeter never demanded anything from the Yankees, or New York CIty. Or, anyone for that matter.
While Jeter was in high school, Hal Newhouser, then a scout for the Houston Astros, scouted Jeter extensively, doing everything he can to convince the Astros front office to draft Jeter. Scared that they would waste a pick on a kid that may ask for too much to forgo college, Houston instead drafted Cal State Fullerton outfielder Phil Nevin. Nevin singed for $700,000.
The Yankees, who had the sixth overall pick, took a shot on Jeter, despite a fear he may play baseball for Michigan. Jeter turned pro and signed with the Yankees for $800,000.
Nevin spent 11 years in the bigs from 1995-2006, playing for seven different clubs before retiring in 2006. He finished with a career .270 batting average with 208 home runs and 743 RBI.
Meanwhile Jeter, who was said to be "on his way to Cooperstown" by Yankee scout Dock Groch, is a career .312 hitter while racking up 3,316 hits and counting (also becoming just the second shortstop and fourth youngest player to reach 3,000 hits) with 256 home runs and 1,261 RBI.
If it counts for anything, Newhouser quit the Astros following the 1992 draft.
As memorable as Mariano's farewell tour was last season, I'm sure it'll be a much greater farewell tour for Jeter in 2014. One he wouldn't really ask for, but will get anyway. From everyone.
The farewell tour officially begins April 1st in Houston.