At His Hall of Fame Introductory Press Conference, Derek Jeter Finally Begins To Reflect Upon His Iconic Career
Across professional sports, the act of putting on a jersey for the first time -- when joining a new team -- has become a symbolic tradition. It's a moment not to dwell on what's happened in the past, but to focus on what's ahead.
Newly elected Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Larry Walker took a step closer to becoming immortal teammates on baseball's ultimate club Wednesday, donning the iconic cream-colored jersey -- with 'Hall of Fame' boldly scripted in red across the chest -- for the first time.
At a press conference with a new member of a team, it's all about the future. After a huge trade -- or in Gerrit Cole's case, a mammoth free-agent contract -- that first photo in a new uniform is a sign of what's to come.
Although Jeter has a special moment on the way, this press conference was different. For the first time in his career, Jeter wasn't asking what's next.
As cameras flashed in a chorus, Jeter's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame -- the sport's highest individual honor -- was one step closer to reality. He buttoned up his new digs, top to bottom, bending his cap to his liking with both hands.
"How do I look?" he asked, breaking the silence.
Jeter's been Cooperstown bound since long before Wednesday's introduction. Although he came up one vote shy of unanimity on Tuesday night, receiving 99.7 percent of the Baseball Writer's Association of America's tally, 20 prolific big-league seasons as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees -- as well as five years of retirement -- led to this moment.
"It doesn't get any better than this," the five-time World Series champion said. "There's no more awards, no other places you can go. This is it. This is as good as it gets."
It's uncharted territory for a ballplayer who spent each day of his baseball career constantly preparing for his next challenge. At first, it was how to rise to the occasion as a minor leaguer when Jeter recalled feeling "outmatched," calling his parents every night in tears. Or how to improve from a .210 average in his first season in rookie ball in 1992, 56 errors committed over 126 games at shortstop with the Yankees Class-A affiliate one year later and an emotional demotion back to Triple-A soon after his big-league debut in 1995. Eventually, those questions transitioned to finding ways to learn from failed bids at World Series titles, or what had to be done to replicate the seasons where New York was the last team standing.
Jeter rose to greatness -- in a game where even the best fail more than they succeed -- on the shoulders of an elite ability to turn the page.
"My parents always told me to sit back and enjoy the moment. I was just never able to do it," Jeter recalled. "I don’t know if that’s a character flaw or if it’s part of the reason why I'm here. It was always just what’s next, what’s next. If we won, I forgot about it and prepared to try to win the next season. If we lost, I forgot about it and tried to prepare for the next season. I never really had a chance to sit back and reflect."
That mental fortitude -- unique to only the greatest to ever step foot on a professional baseball diamond -- was a key component in why Jeter will be in Cooperstown this July for his induction ceremony. Unwavering positivity in the face of adversity, combined with an all-time skillset to physically play the game, helped The Captain compile a résumé worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
A résumé up there with some of the best in baseball history.
The kid from Kalamazoo is sixth all-time in hits with 3,465. He's set all-time records -- like the most games played (2,747) in pinstripes -- for the sport's most storied franchise. Plus, he was at his best when it mattered most, setting a standard in the playoffs with his all-time best totals of postseason games played (158), hits (200) and runs scored (111).
With all those accolades and more, many viewed Jeter's Hall of Fame candidacy as a foregone conclusion. Not Jeter.
"I told everyone throughout the course of my career and the last five years up until yesterday that I didn’t want to talk about it," Jeter explained. "I didn't want to jinx any opportunities I may have. I never took this for granted. I understand that this is the best players to ever play in the game. When you’re playing it, I never necessarily sat down and viewed myself that way. It’s always what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. How can we win and how can we win some more."
Jeter first dreamt of playing shortstop for the Yankees when he was four or five years old, not much older than his two daughters. Now, with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the horizon -- something only one percent of the 19,960 men to ever put on a major-league uniform have been able to accomplish -- the only preparations Jeter will have moving forward, is how to explain his career to his children and choose which stories to tell.
Otherwise, for the first time, the Yankee great can take a moment to reflect.
"Even when my career was over, I really haven’t had an opportunity to sit back," Jeter said. "Maybe that starts now."
To keep up with all of Yankee Maven's coverage, click the "follow" button at the top righthand corner of this page. For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman