For Derek Jeter, final All-Star Game provides fitting farewell
MINNEAPOLIS — What were you expecting? Tears? A speech? A “This is Your Life” moment that would get the man to finally crack?
In the end, it didn’t matter how much he wanted to downplay the moment. It didn’t matter that he didn’t want the day to be about him. “The All-Star Game is about everybody that’s here,” Derek Jeter said late Tuesday night, “and I’ve always been uncomfortable when the focus is on me.”
There was a game played on Tuesday at Target Field: Miguel Cabrera ripped a two-run home run, Yu Darvish threw a gnarly 56-mph eephus pitch to Troy Tulowitzki, Aroldis Chapman threw a 102-mph heater to Kyle Seager, Mike Trout tripled and doubled on his way to the MVP award, hometown closer Glen Perkins closed out the game in the ninth. The AL won 5-3. All in all, it was not a terrible All-Star Game.
But the night, of course, was always going to be the Jeter farewell, and yes, the 2014 All-Star Game was about the Yankees' shortstop more than anything else. There was the voice of Bob Sheppard announcing Jeter's at-bats; there was “New York, New York” blaring over the stadium speakers; there were ovations you could hear all the way in Kalamazoo.
This was his 14th All-Star Game, and he went about it like any other day at the ballpark. When MLB asked him beforehand if he wanted extra tickets for friends and family, he said it wasn’t necessary. When FOX asked him to wear a microphone during the game, he said no thanks. When someone asked him on Monday during Media Day if he planned on making a speech to the AL team, like his pal Mariano Rivera did a year ago, Jeter replied, “I’m still asleep. I haven’t thought about that.”
A few hours before the game, he emerged from the dugout for his final All-Star batting practice with his old pal Robinson Cano. He stretched with teammates, he took grounders at short, he took his cuts at the plate in a BP group with Cano, Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre. And then he was done, and headed back to the clubhouse. There was no posing for photos, no autographs, no extended conversations with old pals on the field. He did offer a few words to his teammates before the game. “Remember every time you put your uniform on,” Jeter said as he stood in front of his locker, “because trust me, it goes quickly.”
And then there was the game: the gracious ovation when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the first (“Adam had his glove on the mound,” Jeter said after the game, of starter Adam Wainwright, “and I tried to tell him to pick it up, let’s go”). There was his double off Wainwright to right field, a line drive down the line with his signature inside-out swing. There was his bloop single to right off Alfredo Simon in the third. There was his fourth-inning exit: Jeter running out to his position before being pulled for Alexei Ramirez. “I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Jeter said. “My back was turned and I heard Cano yelling. Usually when he yells I ignore him, but then I saw Ramirez come out." And just like that, the Yankees' captain — 2-for-2 with a run scored — was done for the night.
There were no tears, no speeches on the field, no moment with the dramatic weight of last year’s All-Star farewell for Rivera — and that’s why the night was in many ways the perfect Jeter adieu. Jeter was always going to remain Jeter until the end: Cool, stoic, unruffled.
Over two days in Minnesota, Jeter did offer some occasional moments of reflection. He recalled his first All-Star Game, in 1998 at Coors Field, and how he was nervous just standing around Cal Ripken. “I was a little scared, to be honest,” he said. He talked about his most memorable All-Star Game: “It was ’99, the Centennial team. There was a tap on my shoulder. It was Hank Aaron, and he said he wanted to meet me. I was like, You want to meet me?”
Mostly, though, he let others do the talking in Minneapolis, and the best part of All-Star week was listening to the other players tell their favorite Jeter stories.
Josh Donaldson: “The first time I kind of talked to him was in 2012 at Yankee Stadium. I hit a double, and got to second base. He was like, ‘Hey, nice swing, kid.’ I said, ‘Thanks, Mr. Jeter.’ I saw him kind of laugh.”
Anthony Rizzo: “I’ll never forget sitting in my living room with my friends in New Jersey, watching the 1996 World Series, and doing all these ridiculous superstitious things to to get the hits — dances, chants, picking our noses. Yup, I was a big Yankees fan, my favorite players were Jeter and [Alfonso] Soriano. My friends back home try to live through me a little bit, and I always share any Jeter story with them. It’s just cool to tell them that I’ve met him. The first conversation I had with him was during a pitching change at Yankee Stadium. I’ll remember that moment forever.”
Kyle Seager: “Some of my favorite memories growing up of watching were watching Yankees games with my dad. I grew up in North Carolina, but my parents are from New York, and my dad was always a big Yankees fan. My favorite player was always Jeter. I would say I modeled my game after him, but that would be giving myself way too much credit. He’s too good for anyone to model their game after.”
Michael Brantley: “I remember being out on the field as a kid and trying to imitate his jump throw. I mean, what kid growing up who loves baseball doesn’t imitate that jump throw?”
Matt Wieters: “The night he was going to break the Yankees' hits record [in 2009], I was behind the plate and Brian Matusz was the pitcher, and we were all talking before the game about how this thing was going to drag forever, all night long, every time he stepped up to the plate. Well, he got that hit in his very first at-bat and we didn’t have to wait for the whole game for him to break the record. It always seems like when the moment’s there, he comes through.
"The other thing I’ve always been amazed by is how he’s kept this perfect image despite being in New York. Obviously that’s a tough place to be, in that fishbowl, and they’re going to find any weakness or flaw in anybody in their personality. And he’s able to handle the New York media better than anyone ever could.”
Greg Holland: “I’ll never forget the first time I faced him, in Kansas City [in 2010]. I threw a pitch about four or five inches inside, and he inside-outted it to right field, and I remember stepping off the mound and wondering, How the hell did he hit that to right field? No one else probably noticed, but to me, it was incredible. He’s just a tough out and always was — he hits the ball in well, and he hits the ball away well, and there are very few guys in the league that do that.”
Troy Tulowitzki: “He’s why I’m a shortstop. He’s why I wear No. 2. He’s everything I always wanted to be. What always stuck out when I watched games with my dad was that he was a winner, always. He was always in the middle of the big play or the clutch hit. It was all about his presence out there. His team was always winning. He always rose to the occasion.”
Jeter’s team won on Tuesday, and he rose to the occasion, and in some ways, it felt like just another day at the ballpark, which is of course how Jeter wanted it all along. A few hours before the game, Jeter sat at his locker just as he does before every game, holding court with a group of reporters, and was asked what he’d miss. “This,” he deadpanned to the group of reporters huddled around him. “I’ll miss all of it. I’ve been doing this since I was, what, five years old? Playing baseball is something I’ve always done.”
Then he talked about the game that night. “You try to enjoy it, but it’s kind of hard to enjoy it,” he said. “Enjoy it, savor it, yeah, but the season still continues.”
He looked up at the cameras and the reporters, and said, “I mean, we do have another game in two days, don’t we?”