She’s 4’7″ of spunky attitude. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl of ten who owns every room she walks into and isn’t afraid of voicing her opinion, especially when it comes to her favorite team, the New York Yankees, or you, her favorite player.
When it was time to choose jersey numbers for softball, she chose 2 because of you. Your career has spanned twice the distance of her life. In an age where athletes were constantly shooting up, beating down or messing around, you were the one I could point to as a parent and say, “See how he plays the game? See how hard he works? See how he treats the other team with respect? That’s how you play.” And she wears 2 because of you.
Then she heard you were retiring. She begged to go see you play. So we scrimped and saved and took a family vacation to New York. This was a pilgrimage that I, a lifetime Yankees fan, had never taken. I was awed by The Stadium. It was like a dream to be able to watch my pinstripers play ball live and in person. The sights and sounds were an amusement park for the senses, and the fact that the Yankees won was the cherry on top.
But she was there to see you. She wanted to see you glide into the hole between short and third, field a grounder, and do your signature jump-throw to first. She wanted to watch that familiar inside-out swing rope a single into right field. She wanted to witness the jubilant fist-pump in the air after a hard fought victory. She only had eyes for you.
And you took the day off.
It’s not your fault. You didn’t know she was coming. It’s a long season, and even heroes need a day of rest. We explained all of this to her, but her heart was broken, but only for a while.
She continued to watch you play, snuggled by me on the couch. Every at bat she would chant your name along with the fans. She took in every moment she could, even if it meant staying up past her bedtime. If you got out, it was always the fault of the other team, and when you reached base it was as if you had defeated the greatest enemy of mankind. And every day, she grabbed that number 2 softball jersey to try and wear to school, in spite of a parent’s insistence that it needed to be cleaned before it left the house.
Then came tonight. The last night at home. You took your familiar spot between third and second. The atmosphere was electric, even through the television screen. She screamed with joy when you roped a double deep into left. She danced with glee when you hit a RBI fielder’s choice that put the Yankees ahead for the time being. Her eyes glistened with yours during that seventh inning when you almost lost your composure.
Watching a hero fade is hard. Every generation does it. My father had to watch Sandy Koufax struggle with elbow problems. I watched your predecessor at Captain, Don Mattingly, fight back problems the last few seasons of his career. And in the glistening eyes of my daughter I saw the first glimpse of childhood slipping away. Her hero was no longer immortal. He was human, and humans age; humans slow down; humans retire. She has never known life without you leading the Yankees. She has taken it for granted that the Yankees always go to the postseason. And now she will have to learn that life isn’t always so perfect. She will have to grow up, and oh how I wish I could stop that oncoming reality.
Then came the bottom of the ninth. You stepped into the batter’s box one final time, and childhood, for a few brief moments, stopped fading away. The magic was back. Another Captain Clutch moment that a scriptwriter couldn’t have imagined, and just as quickly as that game-winning line drive landed in right field, it was gone.
She sits beside me, happy that you won, but sad that you’re leaving. Tears flow unhindered down innocent cheeks. She watches you celebrate with your team; your family. And then you walk alone out to that spot that has been home for you for two decades. Your familiar form squats down to take in the moment. It’s at once celebratory and somber; a moment so poignant it would be rude to try to attempt to put it into words.
And I know, she will forever wear 2 because of you, Derek Jeter.
Farewell Captain. Godspeed, and thanks for being my daughter’s favorite player. You never let her down (except for that one day off, but she assures me, you’re forgiven).