★ Now Batting for the Yankees, Number 2:
One final time, Bob Sheppard’s voice booms through The Stadium. “Now batting for the Yankees, number 2, Derek Jeter. Number 2.”
Winning run on second base. One out. Everyone in The Stadium is standing. I’m standing watching at home. My son, 10, is standing on the couch next to me. The tension is excruciating. First pitch, Jeter jumps on it with his signature inside-out swing. Single to right! Richardson beats the throw to the plate. Yankees win. Yankees win. Pandemonium. My boy jumps off the couch into my arms and we run around the house, hugging, screaming, laughing like the maniacs that we are.
Things like this just aren’t supposed to happen. Real-life endings aren’t like scripted storybook endings. Except with Jeter they so often were. That broken-bat RBI grounder in the 7th was a realistic ending. A spectacular walk-off game-winning single in the bottom of the 9th was not. It felt like the World Series. It felt like the old days.
“This is what it used to be like,” I told my son, “every single year. Something crazy always happened. And then someone for the Yankees always stepped up. Jeter was always in the middle of it. Every year. This is what it was like.”
[I’ll miss Bob Sheppard’s voice. A remarkable institution, now truly silenced.
For me, not much of a baseball fan as team sports go, Mr. Jeter’s baseball career means something to me mostly because of timing. He, (and the other Core 4) Paul O’Neil, Bernie, Joe Girardi, the coaches… the whole “dynasty” team and all the crazy stuff that happened… means something to me because it happened when I had a chance to watch it with my Dad. When I was a kid he had no time to sit and watch baseball (I don’t mean “with me” either, I mean *at all*). He might have caught a few minutes here and there, but I never recall seeing him sit down to watch a game. If anything, I recall watching a rare basketball game with him, maybe a bit of football? Not much of any of it to be sure.
Besides… television then was not television as it is now. It was small and blurry and black and white for the most part.
Anyway, later on in both our lives there was time to sit and watch some games. The Patrick Ewing/John Starks/Pat Riley Knicks were the lead in and having enjoyed some great games, it was easy to sit and watch some baseball with him. I never developed the pastoral joy that allows baseball lovers to sit through a 4 hour game, but there were lots of exciting games to enjoy, and my father taught me a lot about the game.
Baseball has long since slipped off my “todo” list. It sits behind lots of other things on any night of the week and especially on Sunday. And of course, there’s been really no chance to watch those games with my Dad, though who knows, he could be living a lot closer to me next year… but it doesn’t matter from a sports viewing perspective.
While the time for me to watch sports with my father may have ended, and my son has only a passing interest at the moment, I expect to be one of the many who will say, to the unending chagrin of the kids around at that moment… “I may not have seen Mickey Mantle or those guys… but I saw Derek Jeter play from some great seats. I was in The Stadium at the height of Red Sox/Yankees and watched Pedro pitch… I saw the Davids throw perfect game after perfect game, and I watched all of it with my Dad.” (BTW, I saw those Knicks with him as well… could anyone light up the Garden like John Starks?) I’ll always cherish those teams, not for the great playing, the fierce rivalries and all the hype and craziness. But simply because I got to enjoy those moments with my Dad.
PS While there was a career filled with highlights, I always greatly admired the conviction in this famous play:
That’s what I call “all in”.]