The bulk of my personal Yankee fandom involves rooting for the laundry. As much as I love the players when they are in pinstripes with an interlocking NY on their cap, that love generally fades out pretty quickly once they are gone. It's not that I'm particularly fickle; it's just that my main love lies with the Yankees. I love the team more than I love the individual parts that make it up. Players can come and go but the Yankees remain the same.
I watched the bulk of Thursday night's game with a lump in my throat. A different feeling from playoff games when it feels like every pitch and every at-bat is do or die, but one that made the experience a little uneasy. If there ever was a group of Yankees to transcend my love of laundry over personalities, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams were those players. They symbolized everything that made me love the Yankees in the first place. Derek Jeter was one of the first players I ever saw play baseball in real life, and that joy that baseball gave me as a young child before understanding the politics of the game and some of the parts of it that we'd like to ignore was wrapped up in the Yankees' successes of the Dynasty Era. In a world where it seems like an athlete manages to remind us on a weekly (or daily) basis why we root for the team over the individual, we have been very fortunate to have a face of the franchise that never gave us a reason to be disappointed that we chose to root for him.
Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium was a final nail in the Yankees I grew up with. I know many of you likely share that feeling. I'm too young to remember games before Jeter was the shortstop. I'm too young to remember a time when the Yankees just were not good. I'm fully aware of how spoiled and how fortunate that makes me, but it also makes this world where all my childhood baseball heroes are retired a scary one. Those guys, even as their numbers dwindled, were the security blanket. No team with Jeter and Rivera and Pettitte was going to be bad. They couldn't be. The final thread we held onto of that security blanket isn't going to put on pinstripes again until Old Timer's Day.
Anyone who has watched Jeter's career play out the way that many of us have couldn't be surprised that the Captain's flair for the dramatic would find a way to come through in his final game in front of the fans in the Bronx. Everything that happened in the game lined up just so that Jeter could come to the plate with a runner on second base in the bottom of the ninth inning with a chance to win it. Fans had been chanting his name all night, seeming to rattle Jeter for the first time in his entire career. None of that mattered, because he is Derek Jeter and Derek Jeter always has a little magic up his sleeve, it would seem. My first reaction to his final hit was merely "of course." Of course he did that. Of course he came through. Of course he won the game on a night as electric as any I have seen at the new Yankee Stadium. That's what Jeter does.
It has been really tough to watch Jeter struggle the way he did this season. Rooting for laundry means that I have no doubt he should have been dropped in the order and that he barely looked like a major leaguer at times throughout the year. No one wants to see the guy who has meant everything to the organization over the years look human right before he rides off into the sunset. Rivera went out on as high of a note as he could, minus not making it to the playoffs and closing down a World Series victory. Why couldn't Jeter do the same? Regardless of all the things we know in our hearts to be true about Jeter's performance this year, Thursday meant it didn't matter. Objectively, sure, it still matters on some level, but not really. It takes away nothing from an absolutely brilliant career of one of the best players you or I will ever see take the field in a Yankee uniform. All of the frustration of "two-hole clauses" and nearly non-existent range made me realize why I root for laundry over players themselves, but Jeter being Jeter reminded me why we all love him. He's given us a lifetime of amazing baseball memories. Last night was just another in a long line of moments that will likely stick with us for quite some time.
As happy as we all were for the win, and for Jeter to be able to say goodbye to Yankee Stadium in that way, I couldn't help but also be a little sad. Times are changing in a big way. Next year's Yankees aren't going to have any reminders of the team I fell in love with as a child. Older fans have already gone through this and are probably thinking, hey, suck it up. It's still uneasy to think about. I have become enamored with Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner. They will all be on that team. I'll root as hard for the laundry as I ever have while not being able to deny how different it will be to be without any of the players who have just always been there. We've made it through a year without the best closer baseball has ever seen, so I'm sure we will all press on with a new shortstop. I'm just really glad that the last time we got to see Jeter play in Yankee Stadium had a piece of that magic in it that had been missing all season.
Closing the book on the Derek Jeter chapter of my Yankee fandom is a bit sad, but the great thing is that the story doesn't fully end. The next cast of characters in the same laundry will suit up, and they will make impressive plays and hit impressive homers, and the Yankees will fight once again to make it to the playoffs. The weather will turn cool and the atmosphere will be electric. Someone wearing an interlocking NY cap will accept the World Series trophy from the Commissioner and hoist it above his head to thunderous applause. New York, New York will play and we'll all find ourselves feeling the magic just the way we did tonight. That's what made me fall in love with the team in the first place, and that's what will keep me here for a long time after this particular chapter is over.