Commentary by Bill Burke
Derek Jeter played his last game at Yankee Stadium on September 25. The atmosphere was saturated with emotion for everyone in attendance. For the fans, it was the last time they would ever see Jeter at their beloved ballpark. For Jeter, it was the last time he would play in the pinstripes he had grown accustomed to over the past 19 years. And for the Orioles, this game affected home field advantage for the playoffs. As the game wore on, that emotion became more palpable. During one at bat, Jeter forgot his elbow guard, and after the game he admitted that he didn’t want the ball to be hit to him while in the field.
It is difficult to accept and comprehend Jeter’s retirement. He has been one of the game’s biggest names on the game’s biggest team for nearly 20 years. His career has been nothing short of magnificent. He ended with a career .310 batting average, 3,465 hits (sixth on the all-time list), five World Series rings, one World Series MVP and 14 All-Star Game appearances. He was also the longest tenured captain in Yankees history from 2003-2014, and his defensive play was nothing short of iconic. If historians can name a 20-year period in the mid-1800s “The Age of Jackson” after our polarizing seventh president Andrew Jackson, one can certainly argue that the past 15 years can be named, without much opposition, “The Age of Jeter” (if only to eradicate the “Steroid Age” moniker).
Winston Churchill once said: “To improve is to change, to perfect is to change often.”
Derek Jeter was the exception to this rule. His statistics were consistently great, his on-field demeanor was always stoic, his off-the-field behavior was always uncontroversial and his work ethic and attention to detail never wavered. Even during a time many consider to be the “Steroid Era” of baseball, Jeter remained untouched. He embodies perfectly Teddy Roosevelt’s, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
Jeter’s retirement truly is the end of an era in more ways than one. This was especially evident when, at the end of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium, some of the members of the Yankee teams of old were there to congratulate him. As they greeted him one by one, it became increasingly clear that Jeter was to the Yankees what medieval Constantinople was to Ancient Rome: the last remnant of a once great empire.
However, he is more than that. He is the last man from the great Yankee teams of our childhoods to retire. The teams and players of today hardly resemble those of our childhood and adolescence. Likewise, we, the graduating class of 2015, are on the precipice of complete and permanent change in our lives. The baseball world will never be the same and neither will our world.
The juxtaposition of our upcoming graduation to the retirement of Derek Jeter may or may not be a reach, but one cannot argue that two eras are ending simultaneously. As his career ends, our adolescence follows suit. Jeter, in the end, did not suffer the same fate as Constantinople. He did not wither into oblivion; rather he hit his first walk-off in seven years. Despite not making the playoffs, this was a fitting finale for the Captain.
We can take a lesson from Jeter as we continue our final year as college students. We should remember that humility is always better than boastfulness, hard work is always better than controversy, and greatness created by fraud is doomed to brevity.