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One fan’s reflections on Derek Jeter’s career through the years

The Captain enters Cooperstown today, and I was struck by how key years of his career intertwined with milestones in my own life.

MLB: Baseball Hall of Fame Press Conference Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

On May 7, 1996, the New York Yankees took on the Detroit Tigers in what appeared to be an unexciting matchup on a Tuesday night in the Bronx. The man who took the ball for the Yankees was six-year veteran Scott Kamieniecki — a player who, judging from his stat line, was a perfectly serviceable sixth starter but not somebody worth counting on for a big game. The Tigers, meanwhile, sent second-year Felipe Lira to the mound; he pretty much fit the same category. It would turn out to be a memorable game, however, as the Yankees sent 15 batters to the plate in the sixth, scoring eight runs to power them to a 12-5 victory.

Of course, despite it being such an interesting game, I don’t have any recollection of it — although that’s not my fault, as I was only a few hours old when the first pitch was thrown, sitting in the same hospital where David Cone would soon rest after surgery to remove an aneurysm in his arm. Thanks to the wonderful resource that is the Baseball-Reference archives, however, I am able to step back in time, and take a look at the box score of such an interesting game:

Despite not remembering anything from 1996, there are many names and faces from this lineup that I associate with the New York Yankees. Players like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, and Rubén Sierra all donned the pinstripes for at least a little while in the mid-2000s, and I have come to know Paul O’Neill and Joe Girardi for their on the YES Network and as the Yankees manager, respectively.

But there’s someone else there who I want to hone in on a bit more today: Derek Jeter, who tripled and scored a run in that game. Later today, he will at long last enter the Baseball Hall of Fame today as a member of the class of 2021, almost two years after being voted in (one ballot shy of unanimity).

Let me get this out right off the bat: Derek Jeter is not my favorite baseball player, and he never really was. I’ve always respected his game, but honestly, he stopped signing autographs right before getting to six-year-old me at my first game, and, well, it’s hard to completely come back from that. (It may be arbitrary, but hey, that the nature of fandom.) But as I sit here and ponder Jeter’s obviously-worthy entry to the Hall, I can’t help but think just how much his career and my life have been intertwined over the years, starting from the fact that Jeter’s rookie year as a baseball player was, well, my rookie year as a player in the game of life.

Some of those milestones were baseball-related. Even if I forget the date, I will always be easily able to figure out the day I went to Yankee Stadium the first time for and saw a game in person — it was July 7, 2002, the first day that Jeter ever served as the designated hitter, giving him a half-day off to get him back in the lineup after spraining his knee. Similarly, one of the games that I have the clearest memory of is the 13-inning classic from July 1, 2004, in which Jeter notably dove into the stands to catch a pop fly down the left field line to keep the game tied.

Randomly, I decided to keep score in a Little League notebook for fun, and when I look back, I can see the seeds already planted in eight-year-old me that led to me blogging about the Yankees today.

More importantly, however, important milestones in Jeter’s career have also lined up with significant moments in my life. Most significantly, his final season was an important year of transition for me, as I graduated high school in the spring of 2014 and began my education at Villanova University that fall. I distinctly remember sitting in the one of the lounges of St. Monica’s Hall on South Campus — I think it was the third-floor lounge, as it had a better television than the fourth-floor one — on September 25, 2014, as Jeter came to the plate one last time at Yankee Stadium.

After David Robertson uncharacteristically blew a 5-3 lead by surrendering home runs to Adam Jones and Steve Pearce in the top of the ninth, José Pirela singled to left to open the frame. Antoan Richardson, who pinch-ran for Pirela, advanced to second on a Brett Gardner bunt, setting up Jeter for one final moment of glory:

When Richardson scored, everybody in the room — Yankees fans or otherwise — yelled in excitement, and why wouldn’t we? There was no better way for Jeter to go out.

But I remember sitting there later that night, pondering the moment and realizing what made it so special for all of us, no matter which team you supported. We had all known each other for little over a month, having moved into the dorm on August 20th, and yet I knew that in no small way, that moment symbolized an ending for all of us — one of the greatest players of our childhood taking his final bows symbolized the ending of our own childhoods. Just as the Yankees were about to embark on a new identity in the post-Core Four era after the Captain’s farewell, so too were all of us at the beginning of new voyages as we began our college experience together.

Somehow, that’s not the last liminal moment that has lined up in my life and Jeter’s baseball career. At 1:30 pm ET today, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony will begin. The festivities will include a celebration of Jeter’s 20-year career that crossed into three different decades and two different millennia, and which brought five championship parades to the wonderful city of New York. Tomorrow at roughly the same time, I begin my career as a teacher, beginning with a seventh-grade Latin class filled with students who were born around the time that the Yankees last won the World Series ... and for whom Didi Gregorius is the oldest Yankees shortstop that they remember.

And as I sit here, preparing my first lesson plans, I cannot help but think about the impact that that Jeter had on this city and on all of our lives. There were others who had more physical talent, more power in their bat, more speed on the basepaths, or more range in the field. Despite all that, Jeter always found a way to be in the right place at the right time to make the play, from the flip in Oakland to the famous dive alluded to above, and when he came up to the plate with the game on the line, it always felt like victory was assured — no matter how much the matchup favored the opposing pitcher.

In many ways, Jeter’s performance on the diamond perfectly encapsulates the type of attitude that I want to instill in my students: a desire to always find a way to solve a problem, no matter how unattainable the answer seems to be. Derek Jeter is still one of the best role models, even years after his retirement — and that, rather than his accolades on the field, is why he’s a true Hall of Famer in my book.

It almost makes me want to forgive him for not signing my ball as a six-year-old. Almost.