I am not an artist. I am not a poet. As much as I enjoy writing and I consider myself a good writer, even using that term is a stretch.
I wanted to write nothing.
I wanted everything I had poured onto the keyboard for the last 24 hours to stand alone, unaltered by anything I could add to it later. At various points in the evening, I had to force myself to stop thinking about what I could share and instead consider the bigger picture.
There would be no words to describe it.
Even if I wanted to document what ended up becoming the most unforgettable night of my baseball-watching life, there were no words. In fact, I considered posting a blank screen as my ‘Description of Last Night’ article, but the reality is, I didn’t even want to try to capture the night.
Derek Jeter, once again, had done that for me.
I woke up this morning after a dreamless sleep. I considered questioning if everything I experienced at Yankee Stadium was my dream, instead, but then learned the truth: even my imagination couldn’t compete with what actually happened.
Various memories throughout the night began to flood my mind as I brushed my teeth in the early morning silence. These thoughts were fragmented and scattered, ranging from what I had hoped the Yankees would do to celebrate Jeter to the atmosphere in the Bronx to multiple times I was moved to tears. I had no intention of trying to unify these, but I did have one responsibility for the day.
I had to write.
I always do. For approximately a year and a half, I write a minimum of 750 words every day. I have written about this and shared milestones as they have come and go, and it’s been great for me. But it also is a requirement.
Some days I have no desire to write anything more than a running diary. So I do. This morning, as I considered how difficult it usually is to find something to say on a Friday (my week has winded down and I generally look ahead to the weekend), there was no way to avoid using these words to document last night.
This is neither a formal piece on Derek Jeter’s last home game, nor is it continuous, cleanly written, or serve any purpose other than a journal. It will not be edited, and it will not be molded into anything else.
Quite frankly, I couldn’t possibly capture last night in any words that would make sense, anyway. So I won’t. I will just share my unfiltered thoughts.
The weather. It didn’t rain. Of course it didn’t rain – I say this despite basically guaranteeing a rain-out because I was attending the game. But this, like the entire night, was bigger than me. It didn’t rain because Derek Jeter needed it not to rain.
In addition, there was one radio host, in particular, that felt it was ridiculous that the Yankees were trying to force the game to be played. What’s ridiculous is that notion.
Not only do I applaud the Yankees for recognizing the moment (every moment), but I am eternally grateful that they fought to keep the game alive. In truth, seeing the incredible amount of merchandise branded and sold for the final game was certainly the driving factor, but I can’t fault them. They had their selfish reasons to play the game. I had mine. Thank you, Yankees. Thank you, weather.
The predictions. After witnessing (not in person) the famous Mariano Rivera sendoff from last year, it was difficult to imagine how the Yankees could top it for Jeter. The only two actions that would have been unbeatable were the following: Jeter is removed in the top of the ninth inning (more on this later) and the Yankees play with no shortstop, and his parents are the ones to remove him. This thought literally brought me to tears every time I considered it.
The tears. Which ones? The pregame thank you video from the fans or the one from Jeter? The final few times he took the field or the final at-bats? Name a point in the game where something powerful unfolded and there were bleary eyes involved. The most important moment being the end, when Derek Jeter, for the final time, sent me jumping and screaming and burying my face into my dad’s shoulder.
As I wrote yesterday (and a hundred other times), Jeter has provided more emotional celebrations than I could count. Last night was the most impactful. Those tears will remain unmatched until my own children jump into my arms in jubilation.
The moments. I thought about this a lot last night. It wasn’t just the memories of winning or the Flip Play or the Dive. It was barely even the plays themselves that made everything so special. It was the moment just before the play would unfold that made Derek Jeter who he was.
Jeter will always be remembered for his unmatched level of hustle on every play. But the description of the Captain that will be used in future arguments over his greatness boils down to one word: clutch.
Derek Jeter was clutch because of the moment before he delivered, not during.
We watch sports so that we may see something amazing happen. We watch television because we want to be entertained. When the two mix, there is no greater viewing pleasure.
Whenever Derek Jeter would step to the plate in a big situation, everyone simply believed he would deliver. It’s that simple. It wasn’t just that he did, it was that we knew he would and he did not disappoint. We chant his name and cheer him on because, for once, as a sports fan, we believe in what is going to happen next.
We don’t miss it.
That’s what drove tens of thousands of Yankee fans to the stadium last night, myself included. We knew we were going to see something amazing even before it happened. And we wouldn’t miss it.
The crowd. Possibly the most underrated factor in last night’s epic memory was those of us who went to see it live. Since the new Yankee Stadium was opened years ago, there has been a steady belief that the crowd simply isn’t the same. It’s true. I went to a playoff game in 2009. It was quiet. Quiet. For a Yankee playoff game.
We all know why. It has been long documented that those people filling the stadium now are businessmen who could afford the expensive seats or the casual fan who was given free tickets. When the diehards show up, they are the minority.
Except last night.
Anyone who paid a ton of money, traveled hundreds of miles, or braved the weather and traffic, wanted to be there. I don’t think they showed more than five celebrities on the screen (besides ex-Yankees) all night. For Derek Jeter’s last home game, this was surprising, yet awesome.
Only the diehards came out last night, and it was the best atmosphere I have felt in the new Yankee Stadium. I would argue that it rivals any crowd in any game for the past 20 years, but the two exceptions might be 1996 and 2001 (I was at game 5 of the World Series and that was previously my number 1 memory of Yankee Stadium).
Regardless, boos were louder and more intense. Passion was reinstated. The cheers at the end of the game were deafening.
The crowd helped make last night what it was.
The ending. “You should be watching. Trust me, it’ll be special soon.” This was the text message I sent to Tina around the 8th inning. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I knew it would be worth watching, sports fan or not.
Trying to capture exactly what unfolded in Derek Jeter’s last home game is beyond impossible. In fact, it shouldn’t even be attempted. There existed a series of multiple ridiculous events that needed to unfold even to lead to the final at-bat: Ichiro making the final out of the 8th inning, Girardi leaving Jeter in to finish the game, Adam Jones hitting a two-run home run, Steve Pierce hitting a home run, the rookie Jose Pirela leading off with a single, pinch running with the fastest man on the team, Gardner bunting, and finally, the rest of the heavens aligning to allow Derek Jeter to bat with a chance to win the game.
Even if you tried to make it up, you couldn’t have thought of all the ridiculous circumstances needed to place Captain Clutch at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Of course, we knew what would happen. Everyone knew it. Because, as I wrote earlier, Derek Jeter is a walking legend because he allows you to know greatness is about to occur, and then delivers.
First pitch. Single. Game over.
Never again will a moment in sports be greater, because never again will there be another Derek Jeter.
The goodnight. After staying for Jeter’s press conference, my father and I finally left Yankee Stadium. The night had carried a feeling of sadness from the beginning, but the only way to quell the tears was by the game reversing course and turning into the final celebration of Jeter rather than a sendoff. With the way the game finished, it finally became a moment to truly remember. When I tell the story to my grandchildren, everything about the night will be overshadowed by the miraculous way it ended.
The only unfinished business left for me was the one reason why I hesitated to go to the game in the first place – Hayley.
I had gone into work a little late yesterday, solely for the purpose of playing with my daughter for a few minutes in the morning. This mattered to me. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to tuck her in. This mattered more.
When I finally got home, kissed my wife and rubbed her pregnant belly, I went upstairs to Hayley’s room. I shifted her to the center of the bed and sat down on the floor next to her.
She may have already been asleep, but I still read her the book we always read, and recited the lines we always say before I left. Finally, all sadness from the night was long forgotten.
I had made the decision to go to last night’s game for one reason: Derek Jeter is my guy. There was no one before, and there will be no one after. My dad had recognized this, and, over the years, as much as he loved Jeter personally, he felt an extra tug because of how much the shortstop meant to me.
My dad had his guy. I had mine.
Going to Derek Jeter’s last home game was a closure on the part of my life that is now gone. I know and accept that I will never have this same experience again with any athlete.
But I hope to someday have the same experience my father had.
He was able to watch his son idolize a man who never let him down. He was able to take his little boy, at 28 years old, to the closing of a career. He watched Jeter through different eyes than I did, and now we both have lost something in his retirement.
The hope is that we gained something as well.
As I move on from watching my own hero on the field, I hope to be able to enjoy the next one: my child’s hero.
Whether it’s Hayley, the baby currently scheduled for a Thanksgiving arrival, or any of the ones that may follow, there will be a hero that captures their hearts.
Or, as I was moved to tears thinking about Jeter’s parents, I considered the alternative.
What if one of my kids is to become the hero?
Whether my own, my child’s, or my child, his or herself, it won’t change the most important fact:
I will be there.