In 2003, as a 9 year old, I read the first of many books that would change my life. It was an autobiography of Derek Jeter titled, The Life You Imagine: Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreams. At that point in my life, baseball was everything. I played in every type of baseball league I could find. I watched every Seattle Mariners game I could and faithfully kept up with shows like “Sports Center” and “Baseball Tonight.” I collected trading cards, and even got into a baseball board game. I spent hours drawing up All-Star lineups and having internal debates about whether Albert Pujols or Vladimir Guerro should bat cleanup for my imaginary team. I knew without a doubt that I would be playing in the big leagues someday. Oh, and I read about baseball. So as a 9 year old boy, the Gospel of Derek Jeter became my holy text.
Obviously, my obsession with baseball was a little out of control, and don’t worry, I am well aware that the Gospel of Derek Jeter is not in the Bible. But that’s not what this is about. No this is about the ballplayer who changed my life. The man who inspired me to be great, and fueled the dreams that made my childhood so memorable. This is about one of the most legendary athletes of my era, Derek Jeter.
Growing up as a God fearing, Seattle Mariners fan, it was only natural for me to hate the Yankees. The Seattle Mariners were the loveable grassroots organization fighting for a clean environment, while the Yankees were the evil empire polluting the planet. I loved to hate them. And yet, I just couldn’t bring myself to hate Derek Jeter. Before I ever read anything about him, I could tell there was something different. He was cool, and he was consistent. He had this natural sense of respect that was so clear just by the way he carried himself. And of course, he played shortstop just like me. I spent countless hours trying to perfect the classic Jeter backhand-to-a-hop-throw from deep in the hole, and imitated his nonchalant but confident mannerisms in the batters box. The man who bled pinstripes, who epitomized the very team that I so dearly hated, had somehow captured my affection.
I don’t remember who bought me the Derek Jeter autobiography. I want to say I found it at a book fair at my elementary school and convinced my parents to buy it, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that I ripped through that thing cover to cover. I ate up every word of the book, digested it, and read it again. I remember reading about how when Derek Jeter was just a boy he walked into his parents bedroom, sat the foot of the bed and told them matter of factly that he was going to play in the MLB. I saw how they believed in him, and I hoped my parents would do the same for me. I read about how when he was in high school he would spend hours on end tossing baseballs across the basketball court to build up his arm strength. I was inspired by his boyish love for the game, and when he talked about standing in the field hoping that every single play would come to him, I felt as if we were of one heart. He taught me to play the game with reckless abandon, to run out every ground ball and dive headfirst into the stands when you could easily just a let a ball go. I wanted to play the game just like Derek Jeter.
Obviously, mine and Derek Jeter’s careers went down very different paths. My baseball career peaked in 8th grade, and the only times I have played shortstop since then have been on my youth group’s slow pitch softball team. Yet on Thursday night, as I streamed the Yankees game on my laptop in the library, and watched Derek Jeter celebrate his last game at home with an unsurprising walk off line drive to opposite field, I felt just as connected as ever. Because the things I learned from Derek Jeter go much further than playing baseball. He showed me what it means to be fully dedicated and committed to something. He was an example of remaining humble while having every right to be arrogant. He consistently did the right thing and took on the character of role model without blinking an eye. He showed me what it means to be a true leader, one who commands respect but doesn’t demand it. He’s a player admired by my peers, by my parents, and by millions of 9 year old boys out there who want nothing more than to be just like Derek Jeter someday.
Derek, thanks for giving America someone they could root for through hard times. Thank you for being an incredible, positive example for millions of people, young and old. Thank you for staying true to the game. I’m even thankful for the way you stayed committed to the Yankees, as good as you may have looked in a Mariners uniform. Thank you for being someone that we could count on, when it seemed like all the rest of our hero’s were letting us down. Baseball will not be the same without you Derek, and it is better because of you. I’ll never play professional baseball, and the extent of my baseball career from here on out may be playing catch with my future son in my backyard. And while we play catch, I know that I will tell him about you, and I hope that he too will want to be just like you. Farewell Captain.