Bidding Adieu to an American Icon
One could spend all day writing about Derek Jeter.
In most every way, he’s the perfect subject on which to pontificate, about which to wax lyrical, and with which to craft fine melodic lines of poetry.
He’s a princely icon, a glistening role model, and a once in a lifetime gift to those prone to hyperbole.
For two decades, Jeter has been the brightest star in the world’s preeminent metropolis, New York nurturing within its breast a deep love for him as for Sinatra, Monroe and Lennon in times of yore.
Derek only ever dreamed of playing shortstop for the Yankees, that most fabled franchise in all of sports. He only ever dreamed of roaming the diamond made sacrosanct by his heroes. In typical rectitude, he didn’t bargain on becoming perhaps the most noble man ever to turn his hand to the game of baseball. But that he became, with awe-inspiring poise and aching mastery of politeness, respect and class.
From day one, Derek Jeter appeared preordained for the role, with frosty blue eyes, smouldering good looks and an intangible, implacable, largely ineffable aura of supremacy.
He was the modern steward of Yankee greatness, the heir apparent to Yankee mystique, the incumbent guardian of the illustrious, interlocking NY, his name etched with gothic majesty alongside that of Ruth, Gehrig and Di Maggio; Maris, Mantle and Berra; Ford, Mattingly and Jackson.
He wore upon his back a defiant, proud and elegant number two, so sensationally evocative when set against a backdrop of pristine pinstripes and cast below the white frieze of Yankee Stadium, his playground, stage and amphitheatre.
He bestrode the baseball annals, churning hit after opposite-field hit with that sweet, scything swing, until only five privileged men had more in all eternity: guys named Speaker, Musial, Aaron, Cobb and Rose.
A lifetime Yankee, Jeter spent his childhood dreaming about that organisation, before proceeding to play more games for it than anybody else who ever laced a pair of cleats. He ventured to bat for his beloved team on more than 12,000 occasions and, while wearing that heritage-drenched uniform, never once carried himself with anything less than tranquil humility.
He won five World Series rings, enough to encrust an entire hand with diamonds and rubies and emerald stones. He played in fourteen All-Star Games, won five Gold Gloves, and was the 1996 Rookie of the Year.
For more than a decade, he was Yankee captain, an honour bestowed only upon the finest luminaries of club lore. Meanwhile, Derek scored more runs, the definitive object of baseball, than Gehrig; drew more walks than Hornsby; and, quite possibly, was the greatest shortstop to ever roam the earth.
He was far more than a mere ballplayer, far more than an eternal great. He was a bridge from the era of Tony Gwynn to that of Mike Trout, a certifiable relic of baseball’s past but also a gateway to its future.
He was regal, lithe, grace personified. He was opulent, resplendent, youthful charm immortalised. He was a beguiling monument, shimmering like some grand ice sculpture, to the power and permanence of America’s Dream.
Indeed, to an entire generation, Derek Jeter stood forth as the very hub of Americana, surviving two Presidents and growing to know a third; rivaling Beckham and Woods and James in endorsing more products than any athlete of the contemporary realm; and selling more merchandise than anybody ever associated with Major League Baseball.
He was to modern baseball what Michelangelo was to architecture. He was to the New York Yankees what King was to horror. He was to my generation what Ali was to my father’s.
He was unlike anything I have ever seen, nor anything I will see again.
He was Derek Jeter, and it was a pleasure to inhabit his epoch.
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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!