Longing to Belong by Eddie Vedder. Hero worship is for the young. Anymore, I engage in it sparingly. But I still engage in it. And on the day before my 33rd birthday, with my wife and son asleep next to me, one of my heros literally made me feel like a kid again. As you may be aware, Derek Sanderson Jeter #2 shortstop and captain of the globally loved and globally despised New York Yankees connected on his 3000th career hit in a packed Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx on what was (at least from my living room) a virtually perfect day.
Baseball stat dorkiness (I.Y.I.): Jeter became the 28th player in the history of Major League baseball to collect 3000 hits. He is, as of the all-star break, 27th on the career total hit list, already passing Roberto Clemente who ended his career with exactly 3000 hits. (Not on purpose, however, in his last regular season at-bat for the 1972 season, Clemente collected his 3000th career hit off of Jon Matlock at Three-Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. However, he died that off-season in plane crash while delivering aid to Nicaragua after a massive earthquake.) Jeter also became the second player whose 3000th hit was a homerun (Wade Boggs). 3000 hits is a remarkable feat. There is an argument, among the saberstars and just fans in general, that total number of hits (or ascension into the 3000th hit club) may actually be the only number that matters anymore from a career importance standpoint. This is probably intended as an affront to the group of above average (but not truly great) players who have 500 home runs and are suspected of using the juice. I find this to be a bit much. Regardless, it is a monumental acheivment and for it to happen in the Bronx, at the Stadium, for it to be a homerun and for it to be Jeter’s first home run in what seems like a long damn time make it all approach the over used sports discriptor of “storybook.”
I used to take comfort (Maybe that’s the wrong word, it’s more like I felt at ease.) in being able to tell anyone what my favorite of something was and to be able to say it with surety and with repetition. So in the future, when we discussed something, you always knew that my persecpective would always partially be from “the guy whose favorite band is Pearl Jam” or “the guy who loves Emmitt Smith.” I’m not necessarily certain why this was. At times it felt more like a checklist I had created and was then fulfilling by recounting. I would carry with me this cast of (Rushmore, Miller High Life, Bill Clinton, All the King’s Men, strawberry ice cream, Roy Williams, Yield, The Wire et cet.) being able to deal them out in response to the appropriate topic. A long time member of that cast was (favorite baseball player) Derek Sanderson Jeter.
For many years, the cast was in constant modulation. Then I started to realize I didn’t care as much as a once did. And I started to tell people, I’m not into them (Pearl Jam or strawberry ice cream) as much as I once was. Then I realized I’m not into anything as much as I once was. But at the same time I’m now into everything, much more. I’m able to see the flaws in that type focus. Flaws that would leave me hesitant to consider The Shawshank Redemption or Guinness or Catch-22. But more importantly, flaws that left me hesitant to consider the failings of my own choices for favorites. So maybe growing up is learning all the shit you really loved wasn’t all that great. Well, that’s a little depressing.
But The Captain was a constant, maybe the longest tenured member of the favorites society. I respect everything he does on the baseball field and everything I learn about what he does off of it. He’s not the best player ever. He’s not the best shortstop ever. He’s not the best Yankee ever. He is the best Yankee shortstop ever. He’s 37. When he retires his number 2 will be hung up next to the 3 of Babe Ruth, the 4 of Lou Gehrig, the 5 of Joe Dimaggio, the 7 of Mickey Mantle and the 8 of Yogi Berra. Knowing that makes me feel connected to history, to players I never saw play. So it’s fair to call Jeter, as far as my love of baseball goes, my hero.
So having a hero means watching your hero turn 37, watching your hero hit .270 (when their career average is .313) and watching your hero become so defensively limited that every other opposing hit is “pastadvingjeter” (N.B. and, I guess it also means listening to your hero’s solo ukulele albums (sighs)); watching them become not what they were. You can get a sense of mortality from that. And how they handle it might even make you think about how you’re going to handle it. Not when your “career” winds down, but when your life does. So maybe the career of Derek Sanderson Jeter is the perfect exemplar for how we should live our lives. Bust our ass to earn all that can be acheived, handle success with dignity, swallow your unkind words (unless they’re about Pedro), and just be a class act. Or maybe he’s just a fucking baseball player. I don’t know which. But I damn sure love him and this 33 year old damn sure got a little misty when The Captain invigorated his moribund season by putting no. 3000 over the left field fence.
I know there are very few great things left in Jeter from a baseball standpoint, but I understand I will watch his (hopefully) slow road to the next part of his life as enrapt as I was with his ascendency. I suspect it will be at times painful, but I owe him that. We probably owe all our heros that.
Post Script: As I expected, (and as I read after writing the first draft of this) Joe Posnanski said it best: “He has worked hard through the years to say the right things, to do the right things, to exemplify grace and class and confidence and humility, all at the same time. He is a proud athlete, and he has been growing old in front of America, and that cannot be easy.” It’s not easy to watch, either.