Posted by: Mike Cornelius | May 18, 2017

The Yankees Retire Number 2

Once he was a kid born in Pequannock Township, New Jersey, just two dozen miles across the Hudson from the Stadium. A kid who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but still spent summers in Jersey, and went with his grandparents to games at the old place across the street, now a public park haunted by the ghosts of generations past. Ghosts he described on the night we all shut the old Stadium down. He was a kid who chose his position because his father had played shortstop in college ball. A kid who grew up in a baseball family, dreaming of one day playing shortstop for the New York Yankees.

No longer a kid, no longer a ballplayer, but forever the guy who got to live out that dream, winning five World Series rings while becoming the one Yankee even opposing fans respected and admired, Derek Jeter is to be honored on this cool and breezy Sunday evening. It’s Mother’s Day, and as the Yankees have made clear, it was his specific request that the celebration take place this evening as a salute to his mother.

The combination of the time needed for the scheduled ceremony and a Saturday rainout in a series against the Houston Astros, a Central Division team that isn’t scheduled to return to the Bronx this year, creates that most unusual of events on any major league team’s schedule – a single-admission doubleheader. The long day means the crowd is thin when the makeup game gets underway in the afternoon, and it will be thin again when the scheduled night game ends with Houston on top a half hour before midnight. But the three levels of the Stadium gradually fill as the innings of game one pass and the Yankees go from leading 1-0 to trailing 3-1 to leading 4-3 to trailing 6-4. By the time the Bombers explode for six runs in the home half of the 7th frame and then plate another in the 8th to secure an 11-6 victory, it’s standing room only; 48,000 of the faithful on hand to salute the Captain.

It’s a crowd diverse in age, gender and ethnicity, but it is stunning to see how many share a common sartorial preference. It’s as if the price of admission was finding a jersey or tee-shirt somewhere in one’s closet that celebrates the great Yankee shortstop. Jeter’s number has long been the most popular among fans. At a typical home game it’s not unusual to see nearly one out of every three fans who choose to sport a player’s numeral wearing number two. But that impressive percentage is dwarfed by the turnout of twos on this Sunday.

Suddenly a massive roar goes up from the left field bleachers and as our attention goes in that direction a moment later we see why. Jeter and his wife, along with his parents and other family members, have been spotted in Monument Park. Shortly thereafter the ceremony begins with Jeter unveiling his now-retired number, as we all watch the giant video display on the center field scoreboard.

Then the guests are introduced one by one, each emerging from the Yankees dugout. Of course there are the familiar names and faces from the Jeter era – teammates Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill, one-time teammate and later manager Joe Girardi, and Hideki Matsui, who as the MVP of the Yankees most recent title team is always greeted with a long and loud ovation. But there are also those unknown to those of us in the stands who played critical roles in Jeter’s career. The regional scout who first alerted the Yankees to the talented kid playing high school ball in Michigan is here, as is one of his first managers from the low minor leagues. And of course there are those who have already found their own places in Monument Park. First it’s Joe Torre and Bernie Williams, skipper and center fielder for four of Jeter’s five championships. Finally come the other three members of the Yankees Core Four – Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

At last Jeter and his family are driven in from center field as the cheering washes down upon them. After his plaque is unveiled and some gifts are presented, Jeter is handed the microphone. Speaking without notes, he talks about the importance of family, both literally as his parents, grandmother, sister and pregnant wife look on, and figuratively in the sense of the team and its fans. He declares that he would trade places with no one, and, why would he? For nearly two decades he held the only job he ever wanted. Finally, he praises and thanks those of us who cheered him on for all those years.

As the ceremony ends thoughts go to the highlights of a remarkable career. Rookie of the Year in 1996, and four seasons later the only player to be named both the All-Star Game and World Series MVP in the same year. The first pitch leadoff home run in Game Four that broke the back of the Mets in that Subway Series. The flip play that kept the Yankees alive in the 2001 playoffs. Racing full tilt and diving into the stands to make a catch against the Red Sox. The 3,000th hit, a home run to left on a day that Jeter went five for five. Countless images of him ranging to his right to backhand a grounder, then completing the out with a jump throw to first. And of course, that last home at bat in 2014. A game that the Yankees had won until David Robertson gave up three runs to the Orioles in the top of the 9th, in the best blown save in Yankees history. Because it meant Jeter at the plate in the bottom of the 9th with the winning run on second. The familiar inside-out swing, the ball darting into the opposite field as it did off his bat so many times. A walk-off win to wrap up a career.

One more time the familiar four syllable sing-song salute rings out. De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-Jeter! The chorus echoes off the Stadium’s concrete and steel.

Gradually the echoes fade away, just as in time the memories will grow hazy. But we know they will never entirely disappear. For out there in Monument Park, beyond the center field wall, will be the permanent reminders. The bronze plaque hanging on the wall extolling Jeter’s accomplishments as “the cornerstone of five world championship teams,” and the circular shield with the number “2” over the familiar pinstripes, joining the other numbers that will never be worn on this field again. Henceforth that number will only be worn in the stands, where fans will always honor the kid who left Kalamazoo to live out his dream on the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.

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Responses

  1. Whether or not we are fans of the Yankees, it’s a nice summary, Mike,
    Ω


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