RE2PECT: The Long-Lasting Legacy of Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter made his MLB debut at shortstop for the New York Yankees in 1995, ironically the last time the Atlanta Braves won the World Series. The Yankees were a mediocre team of old and overpaid vets, similar to the one now hoarding the Bronx dugout. While he was expected to absorb a couple ground balls and make solid contact with the baseball, Jeter showed New York he was ready to dominate the big stage.

It wasn’t long before No. 2 was flooding the city streets and breaking jersey-selling records. Who didn’t have a Jeter shirt – even Mets fans kept one in the closet from when they were younger and crazy uncle Horace bought them rival Jeter memorabilia for some reason. He knows we’re Mets fans.

He’ll go down as the New York baseball icon from Kalamazoo, Michigan, a generation of greatness. Not much can be said against the man himself, though I’m sure Alex Rodriguez would find some way to comically taint his peer’s success. Perhaps he’ll craft his own Derek Jeter sports meme. Bravo DJ, you will be missed.

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And here’s a piece from our own Jake Sperber, originally featured on one of our blogs Honey Nut Ichiros. Chatter from college-hooked Jake Sperber doesn’t come around often, but when it does it’s always interesting. He is known around the internet swamp as @SuperbSperb96

On May 29, 1995, 318 days before I was born, a tall, skinny kid named Derek Jeter made his MLB debut at shortstop for the New York Yankees. At the time the Yankees were a middling team of pricey, aging veterans, much like the team that Jeter will leave behind in a few days. Jeter replaced Tony Fernandez in the lineup on that day, but for the most part of the 1995 season Jeter was a reserve.

Fast-forward to April 9, 1996, 3 days before I was born. The Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals 7-3 on Opening Day for the next 19 seasons. If you were watching the Yankees you saw #2 standing in the field between second and third base doing his thing at short. While his job description is to snag some ground balls and hit a baseball, Jeter proved to be 100 times more than that.

If you are my age and you grew up in the Tri-State area, the first athlete you knew was Derek Jeter, the ever-so-handsome superstar shortstop for the New York Yankees. It does not matter if you aren’t a sports fan. By the time you were four years old you already knew about the legend of Jeter. His No. 2 was probably the first Yankees apparel you had.. I mean who didn’t have a Jeter shirt; even theMet fans are fond of this man, a New York baseball icon from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Jeter represents something more then just starting shortstop of the New York Yankees. Jeter to an extent, represents our entire generation. He has always been a presence in our lives, he has never failed us and he has consistently been great. Just as the generations before us talk so affectionately of Willis Reed, Reggie Jackson and Walt Frazier, our generation will never have anything bad to say about Jeter.

So what is it about Jeter that makes him so great? If you look at his career statistics he doesn’t grade out as a superstar in the way that Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez, in a past lifetime, do. However, the numbers can tell you that Jeter is a terrible defensive shortstop, the numbers can tell you that Jeter never won an MVP and the numbers can tell you that Jeter only led three major offensive statistical categories over his career. Numbers can be deceiving as it would be a calamity to not call Derek Jeter a superstar. Jeter, in the biggest city in professional sports, being the captain and shortstop of the most polarizing sports team in the world, has never, ever slipped up. As a young child the great sports players are your heroes, and time after time these heroes mess up, and mess up bad. Derek Jeter has stayed off of page six his entire career; you would think that after 20 years in New York the City media would find some dirt on the guy! I mean at least some unpaid parking tickets or something. Nope. Jeter does no wrong; he leads by example and plays every damn baseball game the same, like it is the last game of his life.

To anybody who wants to throw Jeter out on the altar for not being the absolute best shortstop ever and getting this lavish farewell tour anyway (I’m talking to you Keith Olbermann), let me say this. No other person (aside from Mariano Rivera) deserved this kind of treatment. Jeter might not be the best player in the game but the fact is that Jeter is the face of baseball, much like Kobe Bryant is the face of basketball. When you are a champion to the extent that Jeter is you become known internationally. Fact: Jeter, before last night’s game has played in 1 game in which has had no impact on the playoffs in his career. The guy’s played 2,745 games in his career and prior to last night one of them was meaningless that is astonishing. Fact: Jeter has played all 2,745 games as the shortstop for the same team. Jeter has never left the Yankees and has never been close to leaving. We grew with Jeter.

I remember the long summer days in the second grade when I would get off the bus from day camp and the Yankees would always be just starting. You could see the No. 2 warming up, taking his cuts, getting into the stance of his, bat tipped over his helmet, waiting for his pitch. However, there is still one piece I have not put together.. there is one part of Jeter that nobody can replicate and that is his showmanship. Count on Derek to get things done in the most incredible way possible when it counts the most.

My first baseball memory was the famous flip play against Oakland. I was a distraught 5-year-old who had not been brainwashed into being a Mets fan yet. All I wanted was for the Yankees to win; as I saw Jeremy Giambi rounding third I knew the game was over. And then all of the sudden you see No. 2 running across the field nabbing the overthrown cutoff throw and flipping it to the catcher for the out. It was my first experience of Jeter’s flamboyancy. We all know the Mr. November story, we all remember Jeter giving up his body against Boston on the hot midsummer July night when he dove into the stands over a measly foul ball. We all remember Jeter’s 3,000th hit being a homerun in Yankee Stadium, and of course the miracle game winning hit during his final at bat in Yankee Stadium. Jeter has a thing for flare, the perfect captain always picking his teammates up when they need it most.

My favorite part about Jeter is his continuity. There is a short list of the transcendent athletes in our generation; I would say Peyton Manning, Mariano Rivera, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, Tracy McGrady and Ray Lewis are among the short list of athletes who have stayed constant through the first 18 years of my life. Already we saw T-Mac go down, Mariano retire, Lewis retire and time is definitely clicking on the after-mentioned players. These are the players that we are going to tell our kids about. These are our players, who we grew up with. Seeing them fade off into retirement is bittersweet. I will miss watching Jeter trot out to short night in and night out every goddam season. I will miss the Bob Shepard recording of “now batting numba 2, Derek Jeter, numba 2.”

And above all I will miss having a role model who actually is a role model to all. Kobe will always have the rape charge over his head, Ray Lewis potentially killed somebody, heck, Michael Phelps was busted for DUI just yesterday. While we tend to forgive athletes through time they still mess up. Not Jeter, not ever. If there is one thing that we should remember Jeter for it is that, he is the ultimate role model, a leader, a winner, and a man. On that note for one last time: Yeah Jeets.

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