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Derek Jeter: The End of an Era

by on July 17, 2014 6:38 AM

Tuesday night I gathered my family around the television to watch a moment I wanted them to see. Derek Jeter was starting and leading off his last All-Star game.

I'm a sucker for sports goodbyes. In 2005 I watched Jack Nicklaus cross the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews then birdie his last-ever British Open hole. I'll always remember Michael Jordan's last shot as a Chicago Bull. I revered Roger Staubach and the years after his career the NFL lost some meaning. There was the 1999 All-Star game in Fenway Park when Ted Williams tipped his cap to the fans.

Tuesday night was one of those moments. Running in the commercial break just before Jeter's at bat a Nike ad honoring him showed the enormous respect he's earned over the years. Then as he stood at the plate the fans stood and cheered. Even NL starting pitcher Adam Wainright put down his ball and glove to applaud. Then the Yankees' captain hit a double, a typical clutch performance.

I've never met Derek Jeter. I've been fortunate over the years to have met and spent time with Tommy Lasorda, Chuck Tanner, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Stargell, Frank Robinson and other baseball greats. In 2012 at Yankee Stadium I talked with Manager Joe Girardi in his office and got to see Jeter interact with the fans during batting practice; gracious and giving. Jeter may be the last sports great born in the pre-social media world. Everyone who rose in the last seven years or who rises now is different, seemingly more self-aware and self-absorbed, because of social media.

Jeter plays the game selflessly. That is why everyone who ever coached or competed honestly cannot help but love the guy. He is the definition of a great competitor. When he steps on the field he's prepared to perform to the best of his abilities and hoping his opponent has done the same. Not win at all costs, but rather compete within the rules to the very best of his ability. If your best is better he will work harder to beat you next time.

His work, his effort and his preparation created his greatness. In 2001 he made one of the most memorable playoff outs ever when he hustled to the ball and made a flip to the catcher to get an out at home plate. He chased balls into the stands with no regard for his personal safety as evidenced by a play in the 2001 playoffs and a dangerous dive into the stands in July 2004 versus Boston that left him bloodied.

Notice I mentioned three defensive plays.

This is a guy who understands that tradition is a gift and a challenge, who relishes the white hot spotlight that comes with being the Yankees' captain and works to deserve that honor. Even the little things mattered including recognition of Yankee tradition and history. When the Yankees built a new stadium he took with him the recorded voice of long-time stadium announcer Bob Sheppard who had died in 2010. Jeter never left New York; both he and team management realized that the two should forever be intertwined.

During the Nike Ad there is a clip of a young boy wearing a Yankee hat watching a game on TV. The boy had a look of wonder and admiration. It struck home because I remember being that boy.

This is the age of the anti-hero and maybe that is why Jeter stands out. There is big money to be made finding the bad in people that we otherwise admire. How many people have been torn down? Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, The New England Patriots are but a few exposed for violating the rules of fair competition.

The cloak of suspicion is now standard issue for everyone who excels. Derek Jeter has always beaten out suspicion's throw to home. I hope that never changes.

Because I was raised believing in the innate goodness of man, maybe I'm a sucker for the good story. I've always had heroes. I own three throwback baseball jerseys Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson and all of them reached a time when they had to step away from the game.

The first batter of the All-Star game was Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutcheon. He hit a rifling grounder to Jeter who made a great play only to see McCutcheon beat the throw by half a step. The old giving way to the new perhaps?

Derek Jeter is racing against time, and he too will lose the battle. Ultimately the sands of his career's hourglass will run out. Until the last grain slips from his career, America enjoy the next few months of Derek Jeter while he's still here. You will miss him when he is gone.

As a Red Sox fan, what I am about to say is heresy. As it becomes apparent that my favorite team will probably not make the postseason, I find myself hoping that Derek Jeter's final game comes with him celebrating a last World Series Title. It would only be fitting.

Next year, when he is officially a former Yankee I will add another throwback jersey to my collection.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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