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They were down there near the batting cage area near the Yankee clubhouse at the new Yankee Stadium. This was before their Field of Dreams moment after Derek Jeter’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth on Thursday night, when they all suddenly appeared in front of the Yankee dugout, not as if they’d come walking out of some Iowa cornfield, but rather from the old Stadium on the other side of 161st St.
Joe Torre was there. So was the great Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez, and I asked Torre on Friday what they were doing and saying as Jeter walked toward home plate for the last at-bat he would ever have as a Yankee at Yankee Stadium.
Torre: “We were watching on TV what we expected would happen.”
That is where they were to watch a moment that the young people at the Stadium will talk about when they are old, a moment that will be passed on, the story of Jeter’s farewell to the Stadium told and retold the way old men tell stories about baseball wonders they saw when they were young.
This wasn’t one more World Series swing for Derek Jeter. The Yankees only won the last home game of their 2014 season. But tell the people who were there on Thursday night, the ones who would not leave when it was over, the ones made to feel like winners after another lost Yankee season, the ones who felt as if one line-drive single to right in late September made a season when so much had gone wrong for the Yankees feel as if everything had suddenly been made right.
It is why this one last clean base hit for Jeter at the Stadium, the moments that followed as he moved from his current teammates and his current manager to his old teammates and his old manager and then his family before he kept pointing to all corners of the place and the Yankee family at the Stadium on Thursday night, felt as big as anything he had ever done on either side of 161st. “It was,” Joe Torre said, “amazing.”
Of course this one hit didn’t change the wretched excess of his farewell tour, and the way the Yankees turned so much of the thing into some tacky QVC sell-a-thon; it didn’t change the circumstances of the end of Jeter’s career, his second-to-last season lost to injury and now the Yankees missing the playoffs for the second time, even though when baseball instituted the system of two wild-card teams you thought they’d never miss the playoffs, not with their Sultan of Brunei payroll.
Somehow, though, this ending on Thursday night, the perfect ending to the night and Jeter’s Yankee Stadium career, was his career.
The ones in the place had come to tell him how much he had mattered to them over the past two decades. And then he reminded them at the end by winning one more game, even if he hadn’t had a hit quite like this to win a game in seven years.
Before the game Buck Showalter, Jeter’s first manager in the big leagues, talked about how stats could never quantify who and what Jeter has meant to his team, and to Yankee fans. “What they don’t measure is his presence,” Showalter said. And then we saw it one more time a few minutes after 10 o’clock, after the improbable chain of events that even brought Jeter to the plate with one more game on the line, right before that Field of Dreams moment with all his old friends.
The ones who would not leave even when the game was long over, the ones who stayed to watch Jeter’s postgame session with the media on the big screen in the outfield, they never cared about what seamheads and numbers crunchers think about Jeter’s numbers, all those who somehow think baseball can be understood or explained only by spitting decimal points at you like a ballplayer spitting sunflower seeds.
This was about something more, tied up with the fact that the Yankees started winning when Jeter showed up in pinstripes, that he showed up and stayed and never left, that he was there for them all the way to Thursday night, even though the kind of winning he knew as a kid stopped a long time ago. He won the way he won and Torre’s Yankees won World Series the way they won them, until they stopped.
Think about this: After the age of 27, Derek Jeter would win just one more Series over the rest of his career.
“I’m about winning,” he said when it was over Thursday night. And was. And still will be at Fenway Park in Boston this weekend. He kept playing the game right, and carrying himself in his old-Yankee way, and being the face of the franchise, and being the shortstop the young shortstops wanted to be. But the time when the Yankees won four World Series in his first five years would be the best of it for him, and for Yankee fans, it was just that no one knew at the time.
The fans had to let go of that time on Thursday night, once and for all, because that line of retired Yankees in front of the dugout who appeared to join the celebration, Jeter symbolically joined that line after it was Yankees 6 and Orioles 5.
But before he did, he reminded them at Yankee Stadium why they came to care about him the way they did in the first place. There already were enough stories about him to tell, because baseball is still something passed on in a way that the other sports are not. Now they will tell about what it was like the night Jeter delivered with the last swing he will ever make at the Stadium.
You know what they always said about big tape-measure home runs in baseball: Ball’s still rolling. So was Jeter’s single to right on Friday morning, and all day, and maybe for a while. The Yankees didn’t win anything this year. Then they did. Jeter did that.Tags: car, game, show, sports, today, tour, tv