You don’t have to be a New Yorker to know what Derek Jeter means to Yankee fans.
I got my first taste of those feelings in the fall of 2012. Though as a Brit my baseball knowledge only stretched about as far as the plot of “Moneyball,” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample a Yankee game during my time in the city. So it was that I was sitting in the pouring rain on a Thursday evening with a group of friends: two Brits, a Spaniard and a Boston fan, for our sins, watching the Yankees play the Red Sox from above home plate at Yankee Stadium. When Jeter stepped up to bat a man in his mid-30s who sat in front of us, clearly perturbed by our group’s mischievous, soccer-infused “who are ya?” chants, put down his beer, temporarily halted his own ‘De-rek Je-ter’ chant and turned to us. “Derek Jeter is a biracial angel,” he explained, before turning back around and returning to his beer.
Two years on and though the sun may be going down on the career of one of New York’s favorite sons, it was beaming Sunday afternoon as Yankee fans flocked to the Bronx to bid the ‘biracial angel’ an emotional farewell.
In spite of a clash with the return of the NFL, there was little doubt that the Royals’ visit to Yankee Stadium and the ceremony surrounding it, dubbed ‘Derek Jeter Day,’ was the hottest ticket in town.
Fifty-four-year-old Dave Price, a lifelong Yankee fan who made the trip from New Hampshire for the day, explained just what makes No.2 so special to him. “First and foremost, he’s a class act. He’s a great athlete, a gentleman on and off the field and he respects the game of baseball. He’s just a class guy.” Bill Stanton, 56, a Red Sox fan who accompanied Dave, didn’t disagree. “The thing about Jeter,” he said, “is that even rival fans love him. They don’t just respect him, they love him.”
Stanton was a rare interloper in a sea of navy and as fans, often bearing Jeter’s No. 2 on their back, poured out of the subway, there was a sense of celebration rather than melancholy in the air.
Mike Eason, 29, from Queens, summed the mood up: “It’s all about saying thank you to a great guy for a great career and I felt like I had to be here to do it.”
Judging by the lines to enter the stadium two hours before first pitch, he wasn’t alone. Once fans did make it inside, they were treated to a star-studded ceremony that featured a veritable Who’s Who of Yankee history alongside Michael Jordan and baseball great Cal Ripken Jr.
The man they were all there to honor kept his own remarks brief, telling the adoring fans, “In my opinion, I have the greatest job in the world. I got to be the shortstop of the New York Yankees and there’s only one of those. I tried to provide joy and entertainment to you guys, but it can’t compare to what you’ve brought me, so for that, thank you very much.”
The Yankees would go on to lose but the result was, for once, an afterthought. This was all about saying goodbye to the captain, their captain. The Yankees’ future without him may be uncertain but, at the very least, this tourist knows exactly who Derek Jeter is and what he represents.