I'm not a Yankees fan. Never have been, never will be. Yet in this age when the news of professional sports is a mix of game scores and court appearances, one cannot overlook what happened at Yankee Stadium tonight. Derek Jeter played his last game in pinstripes. The Yankees will travel to Fenway Park for a season-ending series against the Red Sox, but tonight's game brought Jeter's career in New York to a storybook end. I'm not surprised.
I don't ever recall turning on my television to intentionally watch a Yankees' game. I did so tonight. I got home a little late, so the game was already in the 7th inning when I tuned in. With the score tied 2-2, Jeter came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. He hit a grounder to shortstop, which could have been an inning-ending double play, but that wasn't what the baseball gods wanted on this New York night. A miscue by the shortstop resulted in two runs scoring, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead. Before the inning was over, the men in pinstripes would score again.
I was certain that Jeter would be given a hero's send-off by the Yankee Stadium crowd, and that manager Joe Girardi would send in a replacement player with one out in the 9th, allowing the sellout crowd to acknowledge the man they've come to know as "The Captain." But things changed quickly, as a 2-run home run by a Baltimore hitter cut the Yankees lead to just one run. Still, I thought Jeter would be taken out of the game. He wasn't -- and with two outs, another Orioles' dinger tied the game. Jeter was scheduled to bat third in the bottom of the 9th.
Sometimes you just know. I didn't know exactly how it would happen, but I had an overwhelming feeling that this was all meant to be. Rather than Jeter's last Yankees Stadium at-bat being an uneventful fielder's choice, even one which resulted in a run-batted-in, the baseball gods gave him one more at-bat -- with one out and a runner on 2nd base. I knew I was watching a live baseball game, but it felt more like a movie. I just knew how it was going to end.
As if it had been scripted, Jeter slapped the ball past the second baseman and into right field. The throw to the plate was just a little off-line and the Yankees scored to end the game. Jeter had a walkoff hit -- exactly how it should be.
Few players in any sport have impressed me as much as Derek Jeter. His ability, dedication, effort and sportsmanship have been exemplary. He wasn't necessarily the best player on the team. He never won an American League MVP award. Rarely, in fact, was he named MVP of his own beloved Yankees. But Jeter consistently provided stability, leadership and integrity at a time when Major League Baseball needed it.
As I said, I will never be a Yankees fan, but I will always be a Derek Jeter fan. I'm grateful for what he has done for the game of baseball.