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Hartnett: Derek Jeter Rises To The Occasion Like No Other, Providing An Instant Yankees’ Classic

(credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical about how important Derek Jeter reaching the 3,000 hit mark would be.  In my own mind, I imagined that it would come on a lazy single to the outfield, the stadium masses would give him a grand ovation and the moment would be forgotten about until it was repackaged in a future replaying of ‘Yankees Classics.’

But this is Derek Jeter.  His life and career has never been ordinary in any shape or form.  For me to think that today would be anything other than something memorable was a huge error in my own judgment, a ‘mea culpa’ if you will.  I’ve had the privilege of following Jeter more closely than any player of the modern era.  Everything I’ve known about him told me he was going to be a very special ballplayer even before he made his major league debut in 1995.

The fact that Hal Newhouser quit his job as scout for the Houston Astros when the organization passed on Jeter told me everything I needed to know about Derek.  Newhouser was so passionate about Jeter’s abilities both as a shortstop and a person that he would drive three and a half hours to watch him play in Kalamazoo and meet with his family.  Newhouser – a dominating lefty of 1940’s, a Hall of Famer and longtime major league scout knew a ‘can’t miss talent’ when he saw one.

As I collected issues of Yankees Magazine as a youngster, I would stumble upon quotes from minor league coaches and scouts explaining that Jeter was ‘cut from a different cloth’ and ‘was blessed with maturity and a work ethic beyond his years.’  Around the time he was a Greensboro Hornet playing Single-A ball, I was assured that he was going to one day become a Yankee great as I read opinions from experts who felt he was on the fast-track to major league stardom.

I remember glancing through magazines as he won award after award but something stuck out in particular.  Jeter was posed with a question about his minor league success and instead of speaking about his achievements; he spoke about his willingness to improve upon the 56 errors he committed in 126 games that season.  Derek went on to win the South Atlantic League awards for Best Defensive Shortstop and Best Infield Arm to go along with being named an All-Star and voted as the league’s ‘Most Exciting Player.’

Clearly there was something different about Jeter.  I learned years later, after he established himself as in majors that throughout his life he was held to a higher standard.  Brushing through his autobiography The Life You Imagine: Derek’s father Charles, a substance abuse counselor would make him sign a contract in which he agreed to a curfew, rejected drugs and alcohol, treated women and his parents with respect to be allowed to engage in high school athletics.

Charles and Dorothy Jeter had raised a unique son who would wash church windows with his grandfather Sonny Connors as he spent his summers in Greenwood Lake, New Jersey.  It was the humble church parishioner, Sonny who valued hard work and would practice with Derek during the summer.  He instilled discipline into his young pupil, teaching him the value of running out ground balls.  Back in Kalamazoo playing Little League ball, Charles was upset by the actions of his son after he refused to shake the hands of the opposing team after a tough loss.  He shouted to Derek, “It’s time to grab a tennis racket since you obviously don’t know how to play a team sport.”

Fast-forward to the present where Jeter was going through a season beset by injury and uncharacteristic poor play.  He was coming off an all-time worst season where his average fell to .270.  Derek is aware enough to hear the mild groans of disenchanted fans and questions raised about his game via the media, especially as he was away from his team on the disabled list.  Away from the spotlight in Tampa, he quietly rehabbed and worked with a goal in his mind to silence his doubters and reclaim the city he owns.

Jeter doesn’t just pull on the pinstripes as if it was any other uniform as he knows who he’s representing when he takes the field.  When Derek stepped into the batter’s box today, he understood there was a larger task at hand than merely collecting his 3,000th hit.  As he rounded the bases, he showed a moment of exuberance for completing the milestone with a dramatic home run.

It was later as he stood at first base after going 5-5 and driving in the eventual winning run, that you could see the relief in Jeter’s face.  He was indeed back with a bang, making a clear statement to those calling him ‘washed up’ or ‘over the hill.’

“Playing well gets you here; consistency keeps you here,” Jeter said post-game. “That’s the thing I’ve always tried to focus on.  It would’ve been really, really awkward to be doing interviews and waving to the crowd if we’d have lost.  That was going through my mind up there, and it was nice to get a hit, but we needed to win this game… If we didn’t win, it definitely would’ve put a damper on things.”

It’s been said many times before but Jeter was born to wear pinstripes.  There’s something inside of him that separates him from most everyone else.  He continually handles pressure by delivering dramatic moments whenever his back is against the wall.  Like a wily old prizefighter, he battles his way back from against the ropes and leaves spectators with a feeling of inspiration.

There is an eternal flame burning deep inside Jeter to keep clawing his way back to the mountain top.  I’d like to see the man who can claim his throne one day, long after he is retired.  I can’t imagine myself respecting a ballplayer more than Derek Jeter.

Has Jeter created a legacy that is unmatchable?  Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.