Tag: Derek Jeter


Mr. November (or, my favorite Derek Jeter story)


My favorite Derek Jeter story comes from a time that, I fear, no one will understand in a few years. Maybe no one understands now. It comes from a time of newspapers and early columns and running columns and crushing deadlines. I have tried to explain the newspaper deadline concept to my daughters but, like the concept of only three television networks and rotary phones, it simply drifts past their dulled eyes the way my father’s stories about having no television set drifted by mine.

“Why did you have such early deadlines?”

“Because they had to take the newspapers far away.”

“Why didn’t they just email the newspapers?”

“We didn’t have email.”

“So why didn’t they text the newspapers?”

On Oct. 31, 2001, I sat in the left field stands at Yankee Stadium as the helpless Yankees were being mowed down by Arizona’s right-handed force of nature Curt Schiling (their left-handed force of nature, Randy Johnson, had mowed the Yankees down three nights before). The left field stands was where the Yankees put their “auxiliary press” and one of the advantages of being banished out there was being so close to those hard-core Bleacher Creature Yankee fans who came up with the whole idea of chanting a players name until he acknowledges them. Watching them told the story. Schilling gave up three hits in seven innings, struck out nine, held Jeter to three infield outs — and the fans were deathly silent. There was no hope. This game was Arizona’s.

In those days (gather round children) you had to be keen to the early rhythms of games because of that horror enchantingly known as “early columns.” In order to deliver Kansas City Star newspapers to the driveways in the far-reaches of Kansas and Missouri, columnists were given a series of deadlines to hit. The first column needed to be delivered before the game even began — apparently so that people in Salina and Springfield did not have giant white spaces where a sports column was supposed to be. I often wondered what people out there must have thought of my writing. I can only assume they thought, “Did this guy even go to the game? He never writes anything about the game. There isn’t a single detail in here. Where’s the score?”*

*As long as we’re reminiscing, I will quickly tell a story from the 1997 World Series when, like all the other columnists, I was trolling the field before the game looking for anything at all to write early when all of a sudden I heard a voice call me.

“Joe!” the voice said.

I turned around. It was Bip Roberts. He had played for the Royals the year before. I had no idea how Bip Roberts knew my name.

“Hi Bip.”

“Come here for a second.”

So I went over to talk with Bip Roberts, who at the time was playing a smaller role for Cleveland. and unsolicited he proceeded to RIP the Royals organization. I don’t know if Bip Roberts simply understood the whole early column politics and knew I’d write about him or if he just wanted to vent but let me tell you something … that day Bip Roberts became one of my favorite people. I strutted around the auxiliary press box with a smile that said, “Ha ha, suckers, I have my early.” You give a columnist an early column, you are a friend for life.

In any case, with the Star, there was the early column (which I had already done). Then there was what we called a “running column.” That was the column that, more or less, had to be delivered just as the game ended. These newspapers, I guess, went to areas not quite as far out as the early region, but still out there somewhere. After that you would write your “late column” or as columnists liked to call it, your “real column.”

In theory, the “running column” could just be the early column updated with a few game details. But most columnists I knew rebelled against that idea. We almost always despised our early columns (except when Bip Roberts showed up). To dress it up as the running column first meant reading it again, which was more than we could bear.

So how did we write these running columns? Easy. We would guess. Early in the game, we would start writing a column based on the flow of the game. Sometimes, a flurry of points or runs or goals came early and we had a fairly easy time of it. Other times, no. If things changed in the middle, we would change in the middle. If things were unclear, we would sometimes write two different columns, updating each as the game progressed.

That night in New York, with Schilling dealing, with the Bleacher Creatures mourning, with Arizona leading the game 3-1 and about to lead the seven-game series by the same total … I was confidently pounding away on my running column. The theme to the column was simple: The Yankees are dead. That’s all. The Yankees had won three straight World Series up to that point, four in five years, they had dominated baseball like no team of my lifetime. They made more, spent more, won more, and were cheered more than any team. They were inescapable.

But not anymore.

The Yankees are dead, I wrote. I don’t remember the other words in the story, but I’m sure that — like Groot in “Guardians of the Galaxy” — I simply used those four words again and again in that same order.

Well, of course, you remember that ninth inning. The lamentable Byung-Hyun Kim had entered the game an inning before, and he had no idea at that moment that he would ever be called “lamentable Byung-Hyun Kim.” In fact, in that eighth inning he struck out the side. The ninth began with Jeter bunting into an out, Paul O’Neill singling and Bernie Williams whiffing.

My running column was done (The Yankees are dead) when Tino Martinez stepped to the plate. He homered. The game was tied. The stadium electrified.

I looked at my utterly worthless column. Worthless. It was … yeah, worthless. I kept looking at it, trying to find any way to salvage it.

And — I promise this is true — my first thought was: Maybe I can insert NOT into the sentences. You know, like, “The Yankees are NOT dead.”

And — I promise this is true — my second thought was: “Maybe I can lead off the column by saying, “Well, this was going to be my column before Byung-Hyun Kim gave up that homer to Tino Martinez.”

And — you know this is true — my third thought was: I am so screwed.

So, what do you do when you are totally screwed? The game went into extra innings, and the office called to say that they would push my deadline back a few minutes but they needed a column the SECOND the game ended. I was too frantic to even argue. I just started typing words — unrelated words, foreign words, gibberish words. Here I was trying to write a column from scratch from a tie game.*

Another quick story: Once, a few years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were playing a Monday Night Game similar to this one, where the game was in doubt and running deadline had passed. A writer stood up in the pressbox and shouted, “I don’t know who is going to win! I don’t know who is going to win!” We’ve all snapped at one time or another.

So, I was barely watching the game in the 10th, with two outs, nobody on, and Derek Jeter came to the plate. Lamentable Byun-Hyung Kim was still on the mound for some reason. The crowd was still buzzing from the Tino miracle, still high from that crazy moment. And, of course, there was something else in the air, something beyond sports. Ground Zero was still burning. It was less than two months after 9/11 and New York was in pain, America was in pain, I don’t think sports had anything to do with that but here were 55,863 people together, almost all of them New Yorkers, and there was Derek Jeter, the player they loved most, and everything sort of stopped like in the movies. I looked up from the screen. Midnight had just struck. And I saw it.

I don’t know if the roar at Yankee Stadium when Jeter hit the home run was the loudest I ever heard. Probably not. The crowd in Beijing when Usain Bolt broke the 100-meter record was loud. The crowd at Allen Fieldhouse the last time Kansas played Missouri was loud. The crowd at Alabama, the Vikings crowd at the Metrodome, the crowd at Chicago’s United Center for the Stanley Cup, they’re all really loud.

But I’ve never heard a sound like that one at Yankee Stadium. It wasn’t a cheer. It was like … a prayer. A joyous prayer. A joyous prayer sung by a gospel choir. Jeter ran around the bases, and the noise was tangible, you could actually feel it, like it was misting outside. I blinked and tried to take it all in, and the phone rang, and I ignored it and wrote feverishly, something, anything, babbling about the Yankees and Jeter and gospel prayers and promising myself that I would never read that column again. Then, I finished, and I sent, and my heart was beating a million miles a minute, and I took a deep breath.

And that’s when I realized no one was leaving. The fans were staying there, all of them, and they were singing “New York, New York” along with the crackling recording of Frank Sinatra. When the song ended, the fans waited, and the voice would begin again, and they would sing again. Three times it played. Four times it played. Five times. Sinatra. Fans. These little town blues.

This is the luckiest job I know. The job has taken me all over the world. It has introduced me to the most amazing people. It has given me a seat to watch some of the most vivid art and most thrilling drama of the last 25 years. And all I’ve had to do is write it down. There isn’t a single day that I’m not grateful for this life.

That said, I remember sitting there, thinking about the passion of Derek Jeter, visualizing the home run again, listening to that crowd sing, looking at the blank screen I had to fill, and I could feel my eyes watering a little bit. Hell, I know sports isn’t life, and there’s a lot of bad out there in the games people play, and this Jeter Appreciation Tour seems to have lasted for twenty-five years and all that. But I still hear that crowd singing.

The Tigers were glued to the TV after their game. But not to the Royals game.

old TV

The Tigers won and then, in grand late September tradition, turned on the clubhouse TV to watch the end of another game. But not to see how their competition for the division title did. Rather, to watch Jeter:

The players were glued to Derek Jeter’s final at-bat and farewell moment at Yankee Stadium.

Joba Chamberlain, Jeter’s former teammate and close friend, was especially choked up by the moment — especially after Jeter put the storybook ending on it with a walk-off single . . . The players sat transfixed by the scene for a good 20 minutes as Jeter made his way around the field saying his goodbyes.

It’s among my more shallow thoughts, but I often think, when I see cool baseball stuff on TV, that it’s a shame that more baseball players can’t see it because they’re busy with their own games.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Yankees 6, Orioles 5:  For everything that was and will be said about this game — for all of the stuff about storybook endings and rising to the occasion and everything else — my biggest takeaway from Derek Jeter‘s heroics was the replay in which they showed his dad reacting to the walkoff hit.

The man watched his son kick ass for 40 years. And on the occasion of the last big hit his son will ever have, he reacted as if it was his first. He jumped out of his seat with a big smile on his face and whooped it up. It was just wonderful

It spoke to me more than anything else anyone has said about Derek Jeter these past few weeks has spoke to me. It explained more about the guy than any of the people reaching beyond their grasp to try to explain the guy have managed. People have tried to figure out why Jeter is who he is and why he has been what he has been these past 20 years. It’s a thing we’ll never know for sure because Jeter doesn’t, to his credit, open up like a book to everyone. But if we had to guess, I’d say the answer to it is somewhere in his dad’s reaction. Some bit of grounding and normalcy and good damn sense that a great many star athletes don’t have surrounding them from the youngest of ages because they’re star athletes and, in this day and age anyway, they’re treated differently.

Derek Jeter’s dad looked like a guy cheering on his son’s first goal in kindergarten soccer. And in that there was something absolutely beautiful.

Red Sox 11, Rays 1: Rusney Castillo and Christian Vazquez each hit their first ever big league homers. Vazquez had four hits and drove in three. Allen Webster had a solid start. The Sox’ season ends with a visit from the Yankees. Jeter will likely DH a bit during the series, but that’s all. What a weird, ignominious ending for both of these teams.

Pirates 10, Braves 1: The Pirates trounce the Braves, who could almost literally be seen checking their October vacation reservations on their smart phones during the game. Pittsburgh is one game behind the Cards for the Central with three games to go. The scoreboard watching between the two of those teams will be about the most meaningful baseball played this entire weekend.

Tigers 4, Twins 2: Homers from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez and a win from Max Scherzer despite not having his best stuff. Best sign for the Tigers: three innings of bullpen work from three pitchers. Nine batters faced, nine batters retired. The Tigers maintain their two-game lead with three to play. Seems pretty safe as long as they don’t just totally woof away the weekend.

Mets 7, Nationals 4Nationals 3, Mets 0: The split. In the first game, Matt den Dekker singled home the go-ahead run off Tyler Clippard in the eighth. Curtis Granderson had three hits in the Mets’ 15-hit attack. In the nightcap, Gio Gonzalez allowed one hit in seven innings while striking out 12. Not a lot of offensive fireworks here, as the Nats’ three runs scored on a bases-loaded walk, a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch and a fielder’s choice. The Nats play another doubleheader today, this time against the Marlins. I’ll be flying to Washington this afternoon to meet up with a good friend and she and I are going to take in the nightcap. I will not wear my Braves gear to the game out of respect, but nor will I do my usual When-in-Rome thing and buy Nats gear because, man, a dude has to have standards. I think I’ll wear my Columbus Clippers cap, to be honest. And root like hell for the Marlins, because I am nothing if not a man animated by spite.

Marlins 6, Phillies 4: The Marlins win ensures that the Phillies will finish in last place for the first time in 14 years. Good effort, fellas. They now go on to play the Braves who may actually be a bigger disappointment than the last place Phillies. I’d say this is the World Series for both of these teams, but they’re both so terrible that it’s more like a lame spring training game on March 25th when everyone is just tired of the routine and they all want to break camp,

Mariners 7, Blue Jays 5: Two homers for Logan Morrison as the Mariners stay alive, albeit in critical condition. The A’s lost, so Seattle remains two back with three to play. Seattle has three against the Angels. The A’s have three against the Rangers.

Rangers 2, Athletics 1: Of course, the Rangers beat them here, courtesy of a walkoff homer from Adrian Beltre. They stunk all year, but in the second half of September, the Rangers have come alive. They stand ready to spoil the A’s season just like the A’s have spoiled the Rangers’ past couple of years. If they do it, boy howdy, that’d be something.

Reds 5, Brewers 3: Speaking of spoiled, the Reds did that to the Brewers, officially eliminating them from playoff contention. Jay Bruce went 3 for 4. Brandon Phillips homered. Yovani Gallardo gave up ten hits in five innings. And like that — poof — it was gone. Quick — someone ask Jonathan Lucroy if he still thinks the Brewers are better than the Cardinals.

Royals 6, White Sox 3: Three runs across the eighth and ninth innings for the rallying Royals. Eric Hosmer was 3 for 5 with a couple driven in. James Shields gets the no-decision and the Kansas City pen does its usual three scoreless innings thing.

Giants 9, Padres 8: The Padres made it interesting, scoring five in the seventh to take the lead, but the Giants roared back with three in the bottom of the inning to seal it. Either way, the Giants clinched the playoffs yesterday with Milwaukee’s loss, so it was going to be champagne, win or lose for San Francisco.

Derek Jeter done with shortstop, will only DH in Boston

Derek Jeter Getty

You wouldn’t blame Derek Jeter if he decided to end his career after tonight’s heroics, but he will play this weekend as the Yankees wrap up their season with a three-game series against the Red Sox in Boston. However, his days of playing shortstop are officially over.

According to Chad Jennings of the Journal News, Jeter said after tonight’s game that he wanted to remember the view he had at shortstop at Yankee Stadium. He’ll be limited to pinch-hitter or designated hitter duties this weekend at Fenway Park.

“I’ve only played shortstop my entire career,” Jeter said. “And the last time I want to play it was tonight.”

Jeter said he made up his mind today. He’s not sure if he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow, but he plans to play “in some capacity” out of “respect to the Boston fans and the rivalry.” Though with the Red Sox out of the race, I’m guessing plenty of Yankees fans will find their way into the building this weekend.

VIDEO: Derek Jeter hits walk-off single in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium

Derek Jeter Getty

I mean, could it have ended any other way? After the Orioles stunned the crowd at Yankee Stadium by scoring three runs off David Roberston to tie the game in the top of the ninth inning, Derek Jeter hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to give the Yankees a 6-5 victory in the final home game of his career.

Jose Pirela led off the bottom of the ninth with a single against Evan Meek before Brett Gardner bunted pinch-runner Antoan Richardson over to second base. Jeter then slapped an opposite-field single to bring home Pirela with the winning run. Storybook ending complete. Check it out below:

What else can you say? Sometimes you just have to let moments speak for themselves. Baseball is the best.