Friday, September 26, 2014

Good-bye, Childhood

Last night was the end of an era: Derek Jeter played his last game in Yankee Stadium as an active player (I'm sure he'll be back in pinstripes for Old-Timers' Day at some point). And I cried. And I cheered. And I felt . . . old.

Getting married, having a kid, turning thirty: did any of those events make me feel old? Nope. But watching the Captain take his final bow at shortstop? It was like saying good-bye to my childhood. And despite the initial thought of feeling old, I couldn't help but also be transported back to when I was twelve years old.

In 1996, my family moved to Texas during the ALDS. Though I had been a Yankees fan since birth, 1996 was the first year that I remember being really into the team and baseball. Previous to that year I had watched occasional games with my dad, and I even asked for a Don Mattingly poster at the school book fair as a reward for having four teeth pulled (because, you know, having a poster of a man with a handlebar mustache near your bed is completely normal for a ten-year-old girl). 

An early fan of pinstripes.

But there was something about 1996: the Yankees were finally good again; they were enjoyable to watch. There was something about Derek Jeter: his skills, his energy, his youth. There was something about cheering for my team as I moved to the south. And though we were in Houston, not Arlington, Texas was the home of the Yankees' ALDS opponents, the Rangers. I remember feeling like the Yankees' win over the Rangers was a personal victory during a move that I was not happy about (I even made sure to wear my Yankees World Series champions jacket to the rodeo in February just to let everyone know that I was a Yankee through and through). And then there was the ALCS, and the Orioles, and the Jeffrey Maier incident. We had been staying at a friend's apartment until our house was ready, and we moved in to our new home right before the World Series. I remember being in our new family room, sitting on my shins, my elbows on the ground with my head resting in my hands. I remember watching each of the six games. I remember in the last game getting up to pace the room during the top of the ninth inning. I remember Charlie Hayes catching that pop up for the final out. And I remember the joy I felt in that moment. I remember staying up past my bedtime to watch the postgame activities and interviews.

Now, fast-forward eighteen years to last night. Mike and I were watching the game in our new living room. I was sitting on the floor in the same position I've been sitting in since I was four: resting on my shins with my head in my hands (it's not as comfortable as an adult, but I can't seem to break it). Mike and I watched the game—both of us feeling the emotions of seeing a ballplayer we grew up watching taking his final bow in the Bronx. In between the top and bottom of the ninth, I got up to check on R, who had woken up an hour before crying. And as I turned the corner back into the living room, I heard Pirela get the single and then Gardner coming up to bat. And like every other Yankee fan, I knew it was going to come down to Jeter . . . and I was stressed. I felt the pressure for him. I looked at Mike and told him as much. I watched Gardner lay down the bunt and advance the runner into scoring position. And then I started pacing. And rocking. And holding my hands to my face. Just like I did in 1996. 

And then we listened to Bob Sheppard's voice for the last time: Now batting for the Yankees, number two, Derek Jeter. Number two. We watched Jeter walk up to the plate. And then he did it. He did what he has done so many times. Captain Clutch. And it was amazing. I jumped up and down, flailing my arms around, high-fiving Mike. In those few moments, it was as if this were a World Series game. (I wish; wouldn't that have been the best ending for him?) And I smiled and felt that joy that I felt eighteen years ago. I saw Jeter's teammates, the guys with him from the beginning, standing in front of the dugout (as Mike and I said, like the veterans waiting in the cornfield for the newest player to join their retired game). And I stayed up past my bedtime watching all the postgame festivities and interviews. 

Seeing Jeter in the interviews, with more wrinkles and less hair, the twelve-year-old left and the thirty-year-old returned. I was reminded of the eighteen years that had passed, of watching Derek Jeter in so many moments—the good and the bad (because he wasn't always perfect). No, if you measure him against other greats, his stats aren't at the top of the boards. But he sure does know how to come through in the moment. You can't deny that the man was a great ballplayer. Sometimes it's not just about leading the boards but about the passion, the drive, and the charisma in combination with the skills. Should he have started in the All-Star Game this year? Based on numbers, absolutely not. But there's a reason he was voted in. And despite not having "the numbers," he produced.

I grew up listening to my dad talk about the Yankees of his youth, and R will most definitely grow up learning about the Yankees of her parents' youth, namely Derek Jeter. Like her mom, she's a Yankee fan from birth, and I can only hope that one day she'll have a player like Derek Jeter to admire and grow up watching. And man, when that day comes, I'm going to feel really old.

R's first trip to the Bronx.

1 comment:

  1. It wasn't just his talent, it was the fact that he truly understood his place in the greatest game's fabric. Like it or not, the fact that he is someone that kids (and adult kids) have looked up to, admired, and emulated makes him so special. I grew up watching others with better stats, but none of them had more class!