I Was There: Final Thoughts on Derek Jeter’s Last Home Game

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.

When Moments Move Us: Jeter’s Last Home Game

I had to do it.

There are moments in life that are bigger than us. Bigger than the games we watch and the money we spend. There are rare times when ‘at any cost’ is to be used. There are very few legitimate ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ events.

Derek Jeter’s last home game is one of them.

I bought two tickets. I had to. I have spent weeks debating how to handle Derek Jeter’s last game in Yankee Stadium and finally dove in.

I sat on my couch during the All-Star Game and watched as it turned into an early representation of what tonight will be. I got chills, shed tears, paced around the room, and refused to stare at the screen long enough to allow the emotion to destroy me.

“Did you expect him to play forever?” Of all the comments and questions shared after Derek Jeter announced his retirement prior to the ’14 season, none was more prevalent than this. The question carried its own power and weight. It was rhetorical – the answer was obvious and thus, not required. It was an attempt at comfort – surely, this day was inevitable.

It was devoid of emotion.

Anyone who knows me also knows that I am not one to remove emotion from any equation.

This is the man who helped me fall in love with baseball. This is the man who I, along with the rest of the New York Tri-State Area, wanted to emulate. This is Derek Jeter. I could not be watching from my couch when his time to say goodbye would arrive.

Even with that insistence, the sickening feeling that I could not go through this same feelings again, I failed to act. I waited, tossed ideas back and forth, and let the decision elude me. When Jeter’s final week of baseball arrived, I found it impossible to turn on the television and watch the train pull into its station.

So I wrote. I wrote my little tribute to the man who I have worshiped for my entire baseball-watching life, and almost my entire existence altogether. When I was nearly finished, I dug through the archives for something else. I pulled out what I had written in February when Jeter first announced his retirement.

Holding the two pieces side-by-side on my computer screen, I compared how I felt then to how I feel now. Nothing had changed. Suddenly, the work of two different versions of myself had combined for a piece that accurately depicted how I feel about my team’s Captain.

I merged the two documents, slicing sections that were repetitive with the help of a few editors. Keeping the emotion in tact as best as I could, I submitted it to XN Sports, where I am now contributing. It is probably the most emotional piece I will ever write outside of the times I document my feelings on Tina, Hayley, and any future little ones that may enter my life.

Immediately after completing the article days ago, I turned back to the other tabs open on my browser. StubHub. Ticketmaster Exchange. Yankee Seating Views.

I bought two tickets.

When the tears filled my eyes as I wrapped up my own personal Derek Jeter Tribute, I knew that I could not allow myself to regret this moment anymore. I told my dad that we would be splitting two tickets to the game, and that we would go to see Jeter bid farewell to the Bronx.

Hours later, we placed the order. I checked the weather before and after purchasing the tickets and, ironically, the “closest” we could have gotten to the field for what could have been considered a reasonable price left us under the overhang of upper deck. In a way, a stroke of good luck.

In reality, a sad reminder that rain is imminent. In fact, it’s not raining because of the weather patterns. It’s raining because I bought tickets to tonight’s game. Think this sounds egotistical? Consider the fact that my bachelor party – an awesome event in its own right – was a Yankee game. Which game? The one in which Derek Jeter would likely tally his 3,000th career hit. Instead, it rained.

Less than 24 hours later, Jeter got five hits and blew through the milestone. I wasn’t there.

I couldn’t let that happen again. Hopefully, Mother Nature agrees.

I believe the game will go on, albeit it may span more hours than I care to imagine. But I will be there. With my dad. Crying. It was, after all, with him that I would stay awake far past my bedtime in October of 1996 to watch the Yankees in the World Series.

It was, at that young age, that I learned the lesson of how important it is to not let a moment pass us by, regardless of the consequence. At that time, little sleep for a ten year old boy was considered a ‘major sacrifice.’

As soon as I had officially purchased the tickets, a sadness overcame me. Sure, I would be experiencing this game with my dad, but what about my daughter?

I take pride in putting Hayley to bed every night. In fact, it’s my favorite part of the day. Furthermore, I had spent two years explaining to Hayley that Derek Jeter was the greatest human on the planet. Tonight, I won’t be with her, neither to read her a bedtime story or watch the Captain take his final curtain call at Yankee Stadium.

I talked about this with my friend, and shared my concerns. Fitz, as he is lovingly referred to by all, reminded me of exactly why Hayley is the reason I should be going tonight, instead of avoiding it.

“You are showing your daughter that there are times when you need to be as good a son as you are a father.”

Taking it one step further, his words also carry a bigger lesson. Paraphrasing slightly, our conversation yielded the following conclusion: There are times when the moment trumps all else, and you need to acknowledge it at any cost.

The lesson learned on the phone hours after I purchased tickets to what would be an unforgettable night mirrored the exact theme shared in the late hours of October nights in 1996, whether with my dad, mom, or nanny and gramps – don’t miss the moments.

I won’t.

I will be there tonight, rain or… rain, I guess, and I will take in every memory. Hayley, I’m sorry you won’t be there, but understand that there are times when the moments move us.

After all, it’s what I learned through watching Derek Jeter play baseball with my father.

And it’s what I plan to pass down to you.

Second Birthday Blessings and Blues

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I had originally planned to write nothing. I had originally planned to enjoy the day as any other. I had originally planned to not feel this way.

I was told many things a little over two years ago, as my wife was preparing to have our first child. At the top of the list was how drastically my life was about to change. Those who spoke these words spoke the truth, but for a number of different reasons.

For starters, all the warnings of losing sleep or missing milestones did not fall on deaf ears. I heard, and I chose to listen or ignore. Either way, I was aware of a decision and I thank those who warned. But the warning of a life change is different. It is a unique experience for all, and no one could have prepared me for exactly how I would be impacted.

The first year did not fly by. Now that the second year is coming to a close, I can say with confidence that, by comparison, there is no comparison. The first year was filled with every milestone, picture, and video that could be recorded. In that way, it will probably be the most eventful year of my child’s life.

The second year transpired in one week.

Every part of my life has, indeed, changed, but not because of my daughter’s presence, but rather who she is as a person.

For the exact reasons why the first year was so satisfyingly drawn out, the second year, as the direct opposite, was a blur. We purposely stopped trying to count Hayley’s age in months as an effort to stretch the year across 365 days, and still found it unable to work. In the end, I sat on my couch tonight,  amazed at what my daughter had become during her second year of life.

Those same people who warned me about how fast childhood goes also warned me that it gets worse when a routine has set in. Typically, this means school, and it will only speed up at that point. But that has also contributed to the blazingly quick past twelve months. Tina and I felt like we had finally hit our stride with our daughter, and life was going to be business as usual from that point on. It was, and that was the problem.

Now, as I watch the video of Hayley’s first year with us, I sob. Tina asked me why. She asked if I was sad. She asked me how I could be so upset.

I am neither sad, nor upset, nor sobbing out of depression.

I am blessed.

I see the face of my daughter on the television, and it is the same face (slightly smaller) than the one sitting to my right with her hands on Tina’s knee. I hear her laugh on screen and it mimics that which I heard minutes earlier. I see her smile and I see Hayley smile.

I cry because I know that, as much has changed throughout the two years, that’s how little has changed. While each day goes by, and absolutely nothing new has transpired, I discover that, somehow, I am able to fall more in love with a person. I don’t see it coming, and I didn’t see it pass. I only feel it when I look back and see what has multiplied throughout the past two years.

Then I cry because I know she loves me too. I see a video of me and my daughter dancing, and I know that, in ten minutes, we will be dancing again. I see her wrapped in my (our) yellow blanket, and I see her bolt off the couch to grab it again. I see her falling asleep in my arms on screen and I see her falling asleep in my arms upstairs, tonight.

The series of images pass my blurred eyes, and each one brings a different emotion. I find a soft smile in how adorable my daughter looks in most of the typical pictures. I find the pained yearning for last year when I see the videos. I find the swelling of love for a life lived when I see moments unfolding.

As always, it is the moments that bring the impact.

The moment when the tree fell on our house and Hayley was beaming with happiness because she got to stay up late and sleep downstairs with mommy and daddy. The moment when I accidentally found a fat, round Jets stuffed animal and realized that Hayley was hysterically laughing at it (and the moment we bought it). The moment when the heat in our house was broken and Hayley had to wear a winter hat inside for a few days.

It is the moments, whether captured or not, that make life memorable. It is the recognition of these moments that make life special.

I had planned on not writing anything tonight because I found it difficult, at first, to pinpoint how I felt about my daughter’s second birthday. Part of me wanted it to be “just another day” so that I would not be forced into a position of sadness, but a bigger part wanted it to be special, regardless of the consequence.

I planned on simply wishing my two-year old daughter a Happy Birthday and continuing on with business as usual. Then I saw the video and remembered how important it is to accentuate the moments and break away from the mundane.

I remembered who caused me to feel this way and why she deserves everything she has received.

I remembered why children are the greatest gifts of life and why a altering a plan is always worth the story it tells.

I remembered how my life has been forever changed.

And I will always remember who changed it.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Hayley!