As Derek Jeter prepares to step up to the batter’s box, he fixes his gloves, correctly positions his helmet, and then firmly places each foot into the painted white rectangle. And then he asks for time. Or more time, really. Derek Jeter is perhaps trademarked by his left hand, which, even after his warm-up swings and his other preparations, is pointed towards the umpire, denoting that, while he may seem ready, he is not. He makes his treads in the box, takes a deep breath, and drops the hand.
Every child in my Little League in the Bronx (including me) did the exact same thing as they stepped into the batter’s box. My father chuckles about this; I had never even noticed it until he brought it up to me, but it’s absolutely true upon reflection. In 1996, every kid that I knew wanted the #2 jersey and suddenly, everyone copied his batting stance and attempted to duplicate his jump-throw.
Needless to say, the impact that Derek Jeter had when he took over the reigns as shortstop for the Yankees in 1996 was monumental. Jeter was, along with Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez, among a fleet of top shortstops that came to baseball in the mid-90s and revolutionized the position. Nomar was revered for his quirks and superstitions, which fell in perfectly with Boston fans. And A-Rod? Well, A-Rod was only the greatest prospect in generations.
And yet now, because of injuries and scandals, Jeter stands alone among the stars of his generation.
The Face of Baseball is now 35 years old, but on most days it’s hard to tell. He has re-established himself as the best shortstop in the American League with an MVP-caliber season, he has a smoking hot girlfriend in Minka Kelly, and he still manages to have the same youthful energy as he did when he broke into the bigs.
Indeed, only history seems to be reminding Derek of how old he actually is. Last Friday, Jeter broke the career record for hits by a Yankee, replacing another Yankee captain, Lou Gehrig. Earlier this year, he reached 2,700 career hits at one of the youngest ages in history, and he may well not be done for a while – baseball pundits cite Jeter’s enduring competitive spirit as evidence that he may well last long enough to challenge Pete Rose’s record of 4,256 hits. Not that Jeter really pays attention to records; winning is his main concern on the baseball field.
Jeter’s new record brought about a fair amount of articles discussing his place in the great history of the New York Yankees, and baseball in general. Writers have both overstated and understated his career, some going as far as to consider him some kind of demigod on the baseball field. But he does have flaws, notably his defensive skills, which, though never great, have been criticized for years. Sometimes he also gets a bad rap as being a stubborn character, who chooses to keep his celebrity life as private as possible.
Kids don’t emulate Derek Jeter in the same droves as they did when I grew up in the Bronx. Yes, he still has his quirks and habits, but new, young players have supplanted Jeter as the king of cool in baseball. On the Yankees alone, Joba Chamberlain and Robinson Cano serve as the new young stars. This isn’t to say that Jeter’s time as a role model has passed – he just caters to an audience that has grown up as he has.
The bottom line is that Jeter is the consummate professional, a living guide for men on how to succeed. And as most adults don’t have the time to stand in a batter’s box and ask for time before hitting, let alone play baseball, it is in this way that we pay homage to our childhood hero. Even if we only realize it upon reflection.