Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter watches from the dugout during the first… (Kathy Kmonicek / Associated…)
He has plied his trade a continent away, and maybe that distance has dimmed our appreciation. But now that Derek Jeter has 3,000 hits, it gives us reason to say what needs to be said about this magnificent Yankee.
Wow. Well done. Impressive beyond words.
Also, thanks for being what you are and who you are.
In that magic early afternoon of July 9, with the memory and remains of old Yankee Stadium looming across the street, the seats filled in new Yankee Stadium, All-Star David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays on the mound and the count 3 and 2, Jeter went from legendary to mystical. He hit a home run for the 3,000th hit of his career. Not a Texas Leaguer that just cleared the shortstop's glove or a hard bounder off the pitcher's leg. A home run.
You may have seen the highlights. You certainly read about it. But like most of us with many years of following and caring about sports, it still may be hard to get your arms around it. The number reached was phenomenal. The manner done so was otherworldly. It was also, somehow, fitting for Jeter, who hadn't hit a home run in Yankee Stadium in more than a year.
The 3,000 hits is a milestone that means automatic entrance into baseball's Hall of Fame. The countdown to it, and the glow of the aftermath, produced all the attention needed to make sure voters see and act.
Jeter actually needed none of that. He was probably a Hall of Fame lock somewhere around hit No. 2,500. The 3,000 hits is a tangible. Most everything else good about Jeter is intangible — and positive.
He plays in one of the rudest, pushiest cities in the world and is neither. The Big Apple and its tabloids eat its celebrities for lunch. They have seldom gotten more than a nibble of Jeter. He is good to his teammates, good to the fans and apparently good to the scores of beautiful women he has dated in his 17 years as a Yankee. If he wasn't, we certainly would have heard about it.
For those nearly two decades, he has conducted his business with a style and consistency that is hard to maintain, for many of his peers, for two months. He is good at what he does and good at being who he is.
The home run got all the play in the headlines the next day, as well as the fact that he broke the record on a five-for-five day. But two other things spoke even more clearly to who really is the 37-year-old Jeter.
— His fifth hit was the game-winner.
— His reaction to the nearly four-minute standing ovation that halted the game after his third-inning homer was worth another step up on the pedestal.
"I felt badly that the game had to stop," he said. "He [Price] is trying to win a game; they're trying to win a game."
In this day and age of end-zone dances and chest-pounding, an era where many of our athletic stars seem singularly motivated by a desire to have us look only at them, or have ESPN put them on "SportsCenter," Jeter was thinking about the feelings of the pitcher who had just given up the milestone homer.
It has been three weeks since Jeter's record-breaking day, but we don't have to let it go quite yet. Major League Baseball, in conjunction with HBO, was up close and personal with Jeter for the lead-up and the moment. The resulting show is called "Derek Jeter 3K" and it is playing eight times this week on either HBO or HBO2. Television can turn the most compelling moments into overdone drivel, or it can get us inside to the magic. This time, it did the latter.
One interview said it all. Billy Crystal, lifelong Yankees fan, says, "It's kind of amazing to think he is the first Yankee to get 3,000 hits, 'cause you'll think, oh, DiMaggio must have done it. No, Mantle, but no, Gehrig, no, Ruth, no."
No, only Derek Jeter, the only Yankee. If that isn't a jolt of perspective…
On the night of Sept. 9, the Yankees come to Anaheim to play the Angels. Except for possible playoff games, it will be their final series of the season in Southern California. Two days later will be the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and the Angels will certainly pay proper homage to that, with the Yankees still in town.
But in some form, the details of which are still being worked out, that series-opening game will present an opportunity to showcase Jeter.
"We are still finalizing some things," says Tim Mead, Angels vice president of communications. "It is fair to say we want to honor the man, the player and the person in some form."
Fans lucky enough to have tickets will want to arrive early. Legends don't pass through often, especially this soon after legendary moments.
It will be a night when it is still OK to hate the Yankees.
It will not be OK to hate Derek Jeter.