It took me a while to appreciate the greatness of Derek Jeter, who tonight in New York tied Lou Gehrig for a record 2,721 hits in a Yankees’ uniform. He’ll undoubtedly break the record in the next few games, and I hope he keeps on swinging until he reaches 3,000 hits.
For most of my life, the Yankees were the enemy, bullies in high-priced pinstripes beating up on teams from the small markets where I happened to live – Cleveland, Seattle, Oakland. They even tormented me in Omaha, where the Kansas City Royals have kept their Class A farm club for many years.
From the hinterlands I had caught Jeter on TV, and he was no doubt a quality ballplayer. But I didn’t watch him regularly. Then I transferred to Midtown Manahttan and lived nearby. Slowly, inevitably, I was drawn in by the Yankees’ tractor beam pulsing from the South Bronx. At first, Paul O’Neill was my favorite Yankee, and when he moved on I got behind Jorge Posada.
Over the years, I started noticing Jeter more and more. I managed to miss the spectacular play he made along the first base line in a 2001 playoff game against Oakland, impossibly intercepting an errant outfield throw and flinging the ball to Posada at the plate to cut down Jeremy Giambi. But there was a night a year or two later when the Yankees were playing the Red Sox. Jeter went tearing after a pop foul and speared it as he tumbled into the first row of seats. Watching the game in our basement family room, my younger son and I looked at each other wide-eyed, knowing we’d just seen something exceptional.
In career of exceptional achievement, Jeter is having one of his best years in 2009. Hats off the Yankee captain, who is worthy of the accolades and superlatives accorded him.