Doug Glanville, former major league center fielders and now columnist for the New York Times has a wonderful article reflecting on the grind of 3000 hits and the unsustainable expectations Derek Jeter has created for us.
Jeter’s career has been more like a plateau curve [than the normal player's bell-curve career arc]. He came on the scene at 20, made a near-instant impact, then stayed remarkably consistent and virtually injury-free year in and year out, cruising on a plane of excellence. In many respects, he spoiled us. When you progress on a flat line, outside observers are lulled into the tacit expectation that this is how it’s supposed to be. Players like this produce so deceptively that we miss the escalating work ethic required to stave off age, the sheer dominating focus it takes to be so steady at such a high level.
Of course Jeter would age. Of course he would eventually become less than he had been before. I've watched his entire career. We've marched through life together, and I can measure my milestones against his; I've lived each day in succession the way he's collected each of his 2998 hits, one by one, with no shortcuts and with as many slumps as hot streaks.
I'm reminded of Mike Mussina, another of my favorite Yankees, now in his third season of retirement. As faulty memory and sweet nostalgia have sanded away the burrs of his final seasons, the scowls and shouts and the bad days, I'm better able to appreciate the wonder of Mussina at 39 years old winning 20 games, anchoring a pitching staff in transition.
The Yankee fan's relationship with Jeter is longer, deeper, and more demanding than the one with Mussina. The disappointment is greater, as a reminder of our own mortality, and the desire to cheer is at times, for me, overwhelming. Every time he steps to the plate I think 3 for 3 tonight. Just like always.
Maybe today will be the day. Because that's what we do, guys like him and me- we grind through the slumps in search of the hot streaks.