The End of My Childhood: Saying Good-bye to Number 2

222506_10150241532625555_7652187_nI’m a couple months from turning 25, so technically, it’s been a while since I was actually a kid. But if you want an official bench mark, it came on Wednesday February 12th, when Derek Jeter announced he would retire at the end of this coming season. Ironically, I was in Boston when I found out about the announcement… making the blow some how harder to take.
As long as I’ve been watching the Yankees, Derek Jeter has been the toast of the town.  The final member of the core four, and my 2nd favorite Yankee (Bernie Williams being number 1), Jeter leaving means the end of a captain in New York. There’s no one left that means enough to this team to be named captain for years to come.  In fact, when he leaves, recently extended Brett Gardner will be the longest tenured player (if you take away the suspended Alex Rodriguez, and I do).
It will be hard to watch baseball without number 2 running around, out-hustling everyone. Without a member of the core four. I grew up watching Jeter. To honor the captain, I give you a taste of my favorite moments watching my favorite team over the years, featuring number 2.
My Top 10 Jeter Moments (in no particular order)
  1. The Flip – Making plays on the biggest stage… that’s what Derek Jeter has been all about. Down 2-0 to the Athletics in the 2000. When I saw the overthrow from Shane Spencer, I thought there goes the game, and maybe the series. But then a flash of white caught streaked across the infield
  2. The Dive – Talk about sacrificing your body. And your face! In a marathon event, which is the usual case against Red Sox, Jeter made a play that will live forever.  He’s known for the jump pass, but also for his ability to go back on a ball usually reserved for a left-fielder.  He ran full out to catch a ball down the left-field line, that would’ve fallen fair, and with just feet between him and the wall, he had no choice to but to launch himself, Superman style
  3. Mr. 3000 – He’s not a home run hitter. But he is the captain, so of course he did what everyone would’ve guessed was improbable. He became the 28th player in Major League History to reach the milestone, and just the 2nd to do so on a homer; former teammate Wade Boggs was the other to do so.  Adding to the mystical moment, he hit the homer against David Price, who also surrendered the single that made Jeter the Yankees all-time hits leader as well.
  4. The Speech – It came at the end of the final game at the old Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008. He stood in the middle of the diamond, amongst his teammates, and thanked the fans for making the stadium so special. It was off the cuff perfection. He asked to bring the spirit of the team over to the new stadium. It came in Jeter’s first season not making the postseason, so the stadium closed without a final championship.  But his words did carry, and the ghosts of Yankees legends past did travel across to the new cathedral, and a year later a 27th parade was held.
  5. The Jump Pass – it’s his signature move, and it gets me every-time. They say Jeter has no range, but I can find you video after video of him in the outfield grass throwing out a runner at first. Sure a lot of it was arm strength, and sure, there are others who have played the position with more range, but if a ball was hit to him, it usually meant an out.  And he found a way to get
  6. SNL – A dress, a taco hole and teaching kids how to deal with bullies. Derek Jeter took his sarcastic sense of humor usually saved for post game comments and brought them to Saturday night. It’s still one of the best episodes ever.
  7. Mr. November – 9/11 left the country stunned. Baseball was an outlet. Down 2-1 in the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Derek Jeter’s walk-off helped energize the city. The Yankees of course lost that series, but it will forever be my favorite World Series.  It was the only thing to make sense after something horrific that made no sense.  It happened in the bottom of the 10th Inning, with the score tied 3-3, facing Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hun Kim, jeter hit the walk-off homer, and gained the nickname.
  8. The Subway Series Lead-Off – The Mets were down 2-1 in the 2000 Subway Series, but coming off their first win, so they had some momentum.  That is until Derek Jeter stepped to the plate to start game 4.  The fans weren’t even in their seats when Jeter shut the door on any hopes of a comeback in the series. A first pitch homer gave the Yankees the lead, and was the final nail in the Yankees 3-peat.
  9. The Hustle – Every time he ran hard to first base… so technically each of the 10,614 career at-bats that didn’t end in a strike three,  because he ran hard EVERY SINGLE TIME!  And many of the previously stated moments relied on his hustle. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch.
  10. Retirement Press Conference– It said all you wanted to know about Jeter.  He said he didn’t want to even call it a “press conference” and didn’t want his teammates to waste practice time (the whole squad showed up). Every question was answered with the team in mind.  “I expect each and every year to be successful. I plan on having a good season,” Jeter said.  He wants to win another ring, and on that Jeter said, “If my expectation levels ever changed, I would have quit a long time ago.” Essentially, these quotes should be on his plaques in Monument Park and in Cooperstown.
He hasn’t had the greatest Spring Training, but who cares? He’s healthy, looks pretty good running down the line and playing the field and is set to play what we all hope is a majority of the 162 and beyond this season.
Jeter has only been active in 1 game where his team was out of contention for a playoff spot, and that just so happens to be the final game of 2008 (a win over Boston that gave Mike Mussina his first and only 20-win season). It’s just one of the remarkable facts/stats that go along with the 20-year veteran.  Here’s to hoping we see many more special moments that make me rethink this list by seasons end.
For now, I just say, thank you Derek Sanderson Jeter. Please allow me to hold on to my childhood just a little bit longer.  And good luck in 2014.
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UPDATE:
I’ve had a few days to recover from the end of an era.  It’s October 3rd, and the playoffs are underway.  And the Yankees aren’t a part of it.  Which means the Captain, number 2, Derek Jeter… is just a memory.
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It’s weird to think that two legends left the pinstripes behind without a shot at another ring, but that’s how Mariano River, and now Jeter have walked off into the sunset.  After decades of success, it’s now how anyone wanted to see it end.  Even so, we the fans, and the game of Baseball were privy to some amazing things.
Knowing Jeter’s final regular season home game would be his actual final home game was a double edged sword. We knew it was the final time to watch number 2 walk on that field, so we knew we could properly say goodbye.  But of course it meant no more postseason magic from the captain.  So what did he do?  Make a bit of magic out of the whole situation.
Big hits marked his final game, none bigger than the 9th inning walk-off hit.  The image of Derek jumping in the air as he rounded 1st will live in my head forever.  He looked like a kid just playing the game he loves.  And that’s how you should remember Derek Jeter.  He lived his childhood dream, and did it with love, dedication and poise.  It was beautiful.  It was all beautiful.
                                     Thank you number 2.
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Saying Goodbye to Number 42

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

At 24, I haven’t seen too many down years for the New York Yankees.  I know how lucky I am for that.  And if you want to know why I’ve been blessed to see so many World Series wins, look no further than the last man to wear the number 42, Mariano Rivera.

The greatest closer in baseball is hanging them up after the season if over, which will be Sunday unless the bombers get a lot of help the final week of the regular season.  After 19 years in the majors, 23 as a member of the Yankees organization, Rivera is ready to leave the game he loves so much behind.  And it’s a game that loves him maybe even more right back.

After announcing his retirement prior to the start of the 2013 season, Major League Baseball vowed to send him out the right way.  And they held up that promise.  Every road team the Yankees visited this year, in his final game of the year there, those teams presented Rivera with gifts.  Gifts to say thank you for being such a class act and a legend among men.

Some of the more memorable gifts include a sandcastle from the Rays, playing off Rivera’s nickname the “Sandman.”   Or how about the chair presented by the Minnesota Twins made entirely of broken bats, something Mo’s cutter did to hundreds of hitters over the years?  In his last trip to Fenway, the arch rival Red Sox paid tribute by presenting Rivera the visitors bullpen rubber, and the 42 used on the Green Monster when he entered games.  Of all the gifts, I bet Rivera appreciated the check presented by each team to his foundation, because if there is one thing Mo loves more than baseball, it’s giving back to those around him.

Then there’s what the Yankees did for their beloved closer Sunday in the Bronx.  For years Rivera came out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” so why not have the band set up on the field and have number 42 walk out to it live? Add to that retiring his number in monument park, a check for $100k to his foundation, a crystal replica of his glove, another chair made of bats and a retired number for his wall at home, the Yankees made sure they told Mo thanks in the best way they knew how.  It all happened in front of a packed stadium crowd, as well as many of Rivera’s former teammates including the man who caught more than half his saves, Jorge Posada.

Why so much fan fare?  How could you not honor a man who has done nothing but produce consistent excellent play for nearly 2 decades, while being an upstanding ambassador of the game.  The 43-year-old is the Major League leader in saves, a 5-time World Series winner and is the only man to throw the final pitch of more than 2 World Series, doing so in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Jorge Posada by far has caught more of Rivera’s 652** career saves, being apart of 379 of them, with 22 catchers total on the receiving end of a final pitch from Mo.  Other numbers that scream first ballot Hall-of-Famer: Rivera’s 2.21 ERA, way less than a hit per inning, and a WHIP of 1.  71 homers in almost 1,283 innings, or 1 every 18.  44 saves in 2013 mark the most in the final season of a closer’s career, this despite blowing a career high 7 games this year.  With 5 games left, Rivera carries an 82-60 record into retirement.

But as good as Rivera was in the regular season, no man shined brighter in the postseason.  In the Yankees most recent World Series run in 09, of the 8 teams to make it to the playoffs, 7 blew saves, 1 did not.  That’s right, Rivera was perfect en route to winning their 27th championship.  According to Sports Illustrated,  Rivera’s postseason records include most games pitched (96), most saves (42) and lowest ERA (0.70, minimum 30 innings pitched).  Not too shabby for a guy who used an orange carton as a mitt as a kid in Panama.

What are some of personal favorite memories?  I will never forget him collapsing on the mound as Aaron Boone rounded the bases during his walk-off homer in the 2003 ALCS against Boston.  Or his 500th save against the Mets.  How about the one two break the record, passing Trevor Hoffman with 602 saves.  I think my favorite though was his first and only career RBI, a bases loaded walk of all things against the Mets.  The smile on his face when he went to first was priceless.

So as the season winds down (5 regular season games to go), the story of Mariano Rivera the baseball player comes to an end.  But while stars fade, legends never die.  Rivera will forever be in the annuls of Major League Baseball history.   As the last man to wear the number 42 (which was retired across baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson), Rivera’s number will reside in Monument Park for ever.  No man will ever fill his shoes.  The Yankees must move on, and it will be difficult.  You have to be encouraged by a guy like David Robertson, who can strikeout any one at any time, and more importantly has the mental makeup to be a closer.  Like Rivera, he doesn’t bad outings affect him, and rarely does he put back-to-back bad outings up.  He has the nickname “Houdini” for being known to create jams for himself, but he usually gets out of them.  Gone are the days of having a security blanket like Rivera, but that doesn’t mean whoever comes in next for New York, whether it’s Robertson or someone else, that they can’t be effective.  It just won’t be the Sandman.

I will always be grateful for being able to see Rivera pitch.  And I can’t even say in his prime, because he is still a  top flight pitcher.  I will tell my children and my grandchildren that I saw number 42 pitch.  He will forever be Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in Yankees and Major League history.

Thanks for the memories Mo.  Enjoy life after baseball.

Celebration Gives Way to a Bad Loss

On a perfect day in the Bronx, the Yankees organization, their fans and baseball said goodbye to number 42.  Mariano Rivera was honored pregame with everything from former teammates returning, his number retired in Monument Park, a $100k check for his foundation and a live rendition of “Enter Sandman” performed by Metallica as Rivera walked out from the pen.  It was a perfect way to say goodbye to a guy who’s been perfect on and off the field for New York for nearly two decades.

Not to be forgotten, Andy Pettitte took the mound for his final appearance in the Bronx.  The leagues oldest starter announced his retirement, for the 2nd time, on Thursday.  

Pettitte carried a no hitter though 5 innings, and held a 1-0 lead thanks to a Mark Reynolds solo homer.  Too bad it wasn’t enough.  The no-no was broken up in the 6th thanks to San Francisco’s rookie shortstop Ehire Adrianza.  It was his first career home run, in just his 7th at-bat. 

Pettitte would leave with one on and no outs to a rousing ovation in the 8th.  It was another perfect and well deserved moment.

Unfortunately for Pettitte and the Yankees, David Robertson came in and allowed the inherited runner to score, dropping Pettitte’s record to 10-11 on the year.  His final start will come in Houston.  Mariano would enter one final time.

But there want any magic left for the Yankees bats, and they fell 2-1.

For New York, it wasn’t how the day was supposed to end.  But more importantly, it’s a loss that really hurts New York’s slim playoff chances.

The Rays won again, so even if the Yankees can sweep them this week, they’ll still be a game back.  That’s because the Indians won again, so the bombers are 4 back with just 6 games to go.  The Royals jumped ahead of them again as well, with Texas still in between them and a playoff spot.