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A matter of 're2pect'

Derek Jeter's retirement from the perspective of a Mets fan

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Derek Jeter has been considered one of the most influential people in New York for 20 years. He’s also the reason I – and my family – was not kicked out of Game 4 of the 2000 Mets-Yankees World Series.

My father wouldn’t let my family miss the game. We arrived at the stadium early to watch batting practice and I, at 6 years old, hoped to grab a foul ball. If my brother and I were lucky, then maybe we would get an autograph.

While we sat in the stands for the practice, Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch hit a sharp grounder down the third base line – and with some serendipity – the ball stopped directly in front of my father.

Without even thinking, he jumped down onto the field. We were surrounded by security within minutes. My family and I were about to be thrown out of the World Series before it even began.

But Jeter wasn’t going to let that happen. Even in opposing territory, Jeter proved to have more authority than anybody.

Jeter stopped his pregame routine to help me.

“Let the guy stay,” Jeter said. “All he wanted was the ball for his kid.”

And just like that, the security was gone. And the ball was in my hand.

An hour later, Jeter hit the first pitch over the left field wall for a homerun. The Yankees won the game and eventually their third straight World Series.

I received a text from one of my childhood friends last Thursday that took me by surprise.

“Come over to watch history,” he said.

I knew what he was talking about – Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium after an illustrious 20-year career. But even as I was walking over to his apartment to meet up with him and two other avid Yankee fans, I kept pondering the same question in my head: Why do they want me here?

I have been – and will always be – a die-hard New York Mets fan.

My parents both grew up in Queens, New York. My father was raised five blocks away from Shea Stadium, the home of the Mets until 2008. He and my uncle ran onto the field after the ‘Miracle’ Mets’ 1969 World Series win and stole third base. I didn’t believe him until he walked out of our garage with it to show me.

My father introduced me to baseball when he took me to my first Mets games at 3 years old. You could sense the energy of the crowd from nearby LaGuardia Airport. Sometimes it felt like the upstairs bleachers would collapse from the emphatic, cheering fans.

But the Mets haven’t been in the postseason since 2006 and haven’t won a World Series since 1986. As a Mets fan, you learn how to accept disappointment. I learned that harsh reality when the Mets lost to the Jeter’s New York Yankees in the 2000 “Subway” World Series.

There is a big difference between Mets and Yankees baseball, especially in New York City. The Yankees and their fans know what it was like to win. After winning four out of five championships from 1996-2000, the Yankees established a dynasty through a combination of five talented players that were all brought up within the Yankee organization.

The Yankees had their most successful run since winning nine of 14 consecutive championships, led by players like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Between Jeter’s first full season in 1996 and until 2006, the Yankees averaged nearly 98 wins per season, won the American League East every year and won four of their five trips to the World Series.

Slowly, members of the dynasty began to leave. Bernie Williams retired in 2006. Catcher Jorge Posada was next in 2011. Pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera retired in 2013.

And then there was Jeter, left to continue the legacy and magic of what he and his former teammates created.

In January, Jeter announced he would retire at the end of the 2014 season. After Jeter retired, every tie to the Yankees’ World Series teams would be gone.

Jeter’s retirement marks not only the end of a career, but also the end of a generation that looked to Jeter as a role model. In a time where performance-enhancing drugs are a trend, Jeter stayed clean. He was never publicized about being late to practice or getting into trouble with the law.

Baseball needed a face to look up to, and Jeter answered the call.

His statistics will get him to Cooperstown. He ranks in the top-10 all-time in at-bats, hits and runs. He’s the only person to ever record 3,000 hits in a Yankees uniform. He was elected to 13 All-Star games, amassed a career .310 batting average and won five World Series rings.

But it’s the intangibles in the game that pushes him over the edge unlike no other player before. In his entire 2,747-game career, Jeter was never ejected.

The famed “Mr. November” home run will go down as just a home run. The “dive” will be put down as a pop out in foul territory. The “flip” will be put down as an assist.

But the people who saw these Jeter plays will be talking about them for the rest of their lives. He put his body on the line every time he took the field, even if he wasn’t at 100 percent.

So why was I, a Mets fan, invited over to my friend’s apartment on the night of Jeter’s last game? Because Jeter’s last game was about more than just the Yankees.

Even though my friends and I grew up with different preferences in teams, we were baseball fans first. We know when a good player comes along and Jeter was no exception. And whatever you say about Jeter, he represented the city of New York for 20 years and put on one heck of a show.

As much as I would have loved to see Mike Piazza hit a game-winning home run to win the World Series or Robin Ventura make an astounding catch at third base that people will still be talking about – they didn’t do it. Jeter did.

And even if I don’t like the team he played for, how could I not respect a player of his stature?

So, like millions of people around the world, I stood up watching Jeter’s last Yankee Stadium at-bat on Thursday. I was cheering for the Yankees. I was optimistic when my friend said Jeter would walk-off in his last at-bat. I was cheering even harder when Jeter took the first pitch of his final at-bat and, in classic Jeter-style, drove it to right field to drive in the winning run.

As the other members of the dynasty embraced Jeter when he walked off the field at Yankee Stadium for the final time, I tipped my cap along with them.

And regardless of your favorite team, you should have done the same thing. Although he was the face of a franchise that dominated New York sports, he did it every way he was supposed to.

I will always be a die-hard Met fan. But I’ll also remember Jeter as the player who made me love baseball. I’ll always remember him as the guy who saved my family from getting thrown out of the World Series.

Farewell, captain.

And let’s hope I never have to write another good thing about the Yankees again.

email: jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com


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