Derek Jeter, One More Time

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

My son came into the kitchen yesterday afternoon and took a look at the small TV on the counter, tucked into the corner between my toaster oven and colorful collection of knives, and asked, kind of surprised, “You’re still watching this?”

He and I had turned on the Yankees game an hour earlier to catch Derek Jeter’s last turn at bat Sunday at Fenway Park and while the 11-year-old lost interest and drifted off to play outside, I kept watching.

Now, if you’ve spent any time reading my blog and gotten a general sense about the type of girl I am, you know that it would be much more likely to find me watching the Food Network or Oprah’s channel rather than a major league baseball game. In fact, I had a hard time finding the game on Verizon Fios (who knew the Yankees had their own network?) and couldn’t tell you where ESPN channels fall in my extensive selection of cable channels.

But I discovered Jeter literally in the bottom of the ninth of his career while watching a Gatorade commercial and have been kind of enamored with him since. And I don’t think I’m alone. When I wrote about my new obsession last week I got more traffic than usual to my site and noticed my guy friends, who normally don’t “like” my blog stuff on Facebook, showing their approval for the subject matter. This could possibly be the incentive I’ve needed to start paying more attention to sports in general.

So I watched Jeter get up for his second turn at bat Sunday and get that infield single while I baked treats for my son to bring to his cross-country pasta party the next day but then kept on watching even after The Captain bowed out of the game. I watched as the Yankees drove in run after run while breading chicken cutlets for dinner and then kept the TV on to watch Jeter’s post-game press conference.

“Why are we still watching this?” moaned my teenaged daughter as we ate our chicken and sweet potatoes while Jeter talked about what it was like to take the pinstripes off after his final game in the majors and how he always tried to treat people the way he wanted to be treated.

As far as my kids were concerned, it was like they were trapped in a really weird scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers because my behavior lately has been far from normal. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them poking around in the crawl space searching for my pod. Apparently, it’s disconcerting for them to see their zombie-loving, bookworm of a mom acting like a sports fan. It’s out of character.

I sat on my bed Thursday night after I got home from a wake to watch the last few innings of Jeter’s now-famous final game in New York and grinned from ear-to-ear when he drove in the winning run. I had called my daughter into my room as he came up to bat and — softy that she is — she started to cry when his ninth inning walk off single won the game and his teammates rushed onto the field.

I’ve combed the Internet to read everything I could find about Jeter and am now a walking encyclopedia of Derek Jeter miscellany including what’s up with that glittery necklace he wears under his uniform and the name of his personal masseuse. And on Saturday night, when one of the girlfriends I was hanging out with suggested we watch the movie “Moneyball” – and even though I’d already seen it once and was in a more of a “Crazy, Stupid Love”-y kind of mood – I said, “Great idea.” It put the whole 2001 “Flip” into perspective.

I even raced over to my local book store one day last week when they got another shipment of Jeter’s new book for kids called “The Contract” – “inspired by” Jeter’s childhood and the contract he signed with his parents that included things like “Be a role model” and “Respect yourself” — for my little guy. I will read it out loud to him if necessary.

I grew up watching baseball and spent many a warm summer night outside playing running bases with my three brothers. In fact, it’s really the only sport that I totally understand I think because I actually played it (or softball, rather, and not very well) as a kid. I have more than a basic grasp of the rules, which is more than I can say about offsides in soccer and whatever is considered a foul in basketball.

So the game makes me slightly nostalgic and I get it when a few times during “Moneyball” Brad Pitt’s character asks,” “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

And I am, deep down, a hopeless romantic.

I want happy endings and for true love to conquer all. I want to believe that most people are inherently good and that everything will work out in the end. I am optimistic to a fault.

So the whole Derek Jeter thing – the entire arc of his story from his dreams as a kid of growing up to play for the Yankees to the storybook ending Thursday night – jibes with everything I want to believe in. And even better, he’s the one thing — in the face of Middle East air strikes and troubling news out of the NFL — everyone seems to be able to agree upon. It’s like those first few days after the Sept. 11 attacks, when — even though everything was beyond terrible — we all banded together as Americans. I love that we can all get behind Jeter, that he can unite us like that.

I know, I’m really romanticizing him.

But, I mean, Red Sox fans cheered for him yesterday and chanted his name. Even Justin Timberlake, whose wife is counted among Jeter’s notable list of famous ex-girlfriends, tweeted The Captain his support:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 12.51.15 PM

JT just might be my other favorite class act.

“He was what we want baseball to be, and sports to be,” writes Mike Lupica today in the Daily News of Jeter and I think that sums it up best for me. He gave us all hope.

So who knows if I’ll show any interest in the race towards the World Series or whether I’ll tune into the YES Network next season (if I can still remember where it is). But I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Derek Jeter.

I look forward to watching whatever he does next.

Good-Bye Derek Jeter

Flickr: Derek Jeter

Flickr: Derek Jeter

This is how much I loved my ex-husband back in the early days, when — even though I grew up in a family of lifelong Yankees fans and, like every other girl in the seventh grade circa 1979 I was totally in love with Bucky Dent — I turned my back on the pinstripes and became a Mets fan.

That is how crazy love can make you.

I’ll admit though that back then rooting for the Mets wasn’t as much of a stretch as it might be seen as today. The team had just come off of its big 1986 World Series win and Darryl Strawberry was best known for hitting home runs and not his future struggles with substance abuse. Even Jerry Seinfeld made it kind of cool to be a Mets fan when he featured Keith Hernandez in two episodes in 1992 as a potential love interest for Elaine. And also, a possible spitter.

Everyone I knew growing up across the river from the Bronx in northern New Jersey in the 1970s was either Irish or Italian. But everyone was Catholic and everyone was a Yankees fan. I mean, I knew Mets fans existed – kind of like Jewish people—but I just never met any of either until I was older.

But by the time I was in college I’d become estranged from my father and his family and pretty ambivalent about sports in general. Like, I religiously tailgated before every football game during my four years at a big state school but never once, not even one time, did I attend an actual football game. Other than playing running bases and throwing rocks at each outside during lively games of War growing up, my siblings and I weren’t encouraged to play sports of the organized variety. I lettered in smoking and drinking and general jackassery in high school.

But my future ex-husband was a huge sports guy in general and Mets fan in particular and I was so besotted with him in those early years out of college that I’d sit on the couch and watch games with him on TV. We even went to a doubleheader one super-hot July afternoon pre-children – and it was Banner Day which consisted of an endless stream of rabid fans parading their banners around the stadium — and I don’t even think I complained once. I’m sure big plastic cups filled with foamy beer helped.

Once we got divorced, I thought, “Well at least now I can go back to being a Yankees fan,” but it turns out that ship had sailed. It’s not like changing your last name. I just don’t have the same allegiance to the team that I did growing up when my aunts, uncles, dad and brothers cheered for the Yankees. That’s probably what I liked the best then anyway, the legacy of being a fan. Of being a part of a great Yankees tradition.

So I was surprised by my reaction when I saw the new Gatorade commercial featuring Derek Jeter. I get teary-eyed every time I watch it – the way the crowd swarms around him as he walks through the Bronx, the reactions on faces young and old and then the roar of the fans as he enters the stadium with Frank Sinatra singing, “I did it my way” in the background. It’s pretty epic.

Initially, I thought it was just me. That I was easily mesmerized by the whole Jeter farewell tour and the legend he seems to have become. But as my 17-year-old daughter and I were on the final hour of our long drive home from visiting her siblings this weekend and our audiobook (Jennifer Weiner’s “All Fall Down” loved it) finished leaving us time to kill with her bad music and chitchat, I asked her if she’d seen the Jeter commercial.

She indicated she had not and I go on to describe it in detail and I noticed her working on her iPhone and accused her of not listening to me and she’s like, “Mother, I’m just going to watch it on YouTube.”

Mark my words, in a decade there will no longer be any point in actually talking to each other. Conversation will be as outdated as dial-up Internet service and audio cassettes.

And then I hear Ol’ Blue Eyes start to sing and see out of the corner of my eye the flags fluttering atop the Brooklyn Bridge at the start of the black-and-white video and all the excited chatter as fans realize Jeter is standing in their midst. I pulled off the Parkway and paid my final toll as I heard the music swell and the crowd cheering in the final seconds I turned to my daughter to ask what she thought and she looked up from her iPhone at me and I saw her big blue eyes filled with tears.

“Oh my god, that was amazing,” she cried, wiping at her eyes. That was quite an endorsement, coming from someone who is probably even more ambivalent about baseball, the Yankees and Derek Jeter than I am.

On Thursday night, my 11-year-old son will travel to the Bronx with his dad to see Jeter play his last home game. I’m excited for him – for them — to get to witness something what will go down in baseball history.

I now get why my ex – a dedicated Mets fan — would have gotten those tickets months ago. I understand how Jeter’s career kind of transcends your allegiance to a team and whether you even really care about baseball or the Yankees.

Jeter is as iconic as the Yankees, or Sinatra or the city of New York. He’s a true sports hero at a time when they seem fewer and farther between. A feature story in this week’s New York Magazine quotes former Yankees Manager Joe Torre crediting Jeter’s parents for keeping him grounded.

“He felt comfortable in his own skin,” says Torre. “Other players need to be validated. Derek doesn’t need the attention.”

And even though I have a DVR full of shows to catch up on (“Outlander” wedding episode and Scandal Season 3, y’all), I might have to tune in Thursday night and watch The Captain’s last turn at bat.

And if that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.