Sunday, July 10, 2011

Number 2 is #1

Derek Jeter came up through the Yankees farm system with a baby face and a tendency to step instinctively into a pitch the better to drive it, if at the plate, or to break the right way at the sound of contact while playing shortstop. He had enough history and heritage to be a story ten times over anywhere, so plying a trade in the media navel of the world could never have been a day at the beach, though I imagine there were a reasonable of folks with radios and streaming video on the strand yesterday who had themselves a time even while they got a tan, all courtesy of the shortstop, #2, Derek Jeter.

Yesterday afternoon, Derek Jeter, became the twenty-eighth player in the history of Major League Baseball to collect three thousand base hits, dotting the "i," crossing the "t" and putting a large exclamation point on his afternoon with a home run for Hit #3000 and then coming back in the bottom of the eighth inning to drive in a possible successor, Eduardo Nunez, from third base as the New York Yankees, the most hated/best loved franchise in the world of professional sports, snapped a three game losing streak and topped the Tampa Bay Rays 5 to 4.

I smiled watching Jorge Posada hug him as he touched home to complete the round-tripper early in the game since Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Posada and Mariano Rivera worked their way up together and were The Core Four (now The Key Three with Pettitte's retirement last season). In any other area of life, Jeter would be regarded as a young man in his prime-at thirty-seven years of age.

Except, as Neil Young once offered, you can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain. Professional sports being what it is, thirty-seven is no longer young and in the off-season there were whispers about how Jeter had lost a step (or more) and observations on how his average had declined and speculation abounded that perhaps the time for coming and going had come and gone. (In the Valhalla of pro baseball, he had become, gasp!, only human.) There wasn't a lot to be thankful for last fall in the world of Pinstripes, even after a deal was done. Those who play never forget what those who root so often do: it's called professional sports for a reason.

Jeter's post-game comments showed again he is the consummate professional, as he emphasized the importance of the victory while acknowledging his enjoyment of the moment as The Man on the Mission. Hit #3000 was an achievement but its pursuit had become a distraction. The Captain, as Yankees fans call him, walked the walk and afterwards talked the talk helping remind all of us that baseball, like so much else, is a team sport. Sometimes it's we who root for him who risk becoming the Lost Boys of Summer. But for a moment yesterday afternoon, we became ten again and our world was bright with promise and reward.
-bill kenny

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