By John Schmeelk
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Unlike most Yankees fans and media members, I wasn’t hopelessly looking forward to Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. I wasn’t counting down every hit, every day. I didn’t go out of my way to make sure I was at the Stadium for one of the games against Tampa Bay this weekend, even when given the opportunity. It was to be a tremendous milestone, but in my opinion, nothing compared to a World Series game.
DJ3K was inevitable. It wasn’t going to be that dramatic or special, I thought.
I was wrong.
For the past six months, more attention had been paid to Jeter’s decline than his upcoming milestone. There’s no doubt he isn’t the player he once was. His bat speed is gone and his power with it. The Yankees are locked into a huge contract with a declining player for the next two and a half seasons. It’ll be difficult to move a legend like Jeter from the leadoff spot to the bottom of the order, something else that is inevitable.
These are all legitimate present-day concerns, but they’ve overshadowed what makes Jeter and all-time great.
Well, those shadows have receded. What made Jeter’s No. 3,000 so special wasn’t the milestone itself, but how he did it. It was the perfect representation of his career. Jeter’s greatness was never measured in numbers, even something as impressive as 3,000 hits.
It was about winning.
And how appropriate, Jeter had the game-winning hit in the game that he achieved his milestone. His career has been about performing well in the most pressure-packed and important situations. Jeter managed to belt a home run for his milestone hit, the type of ending reserved for bad movies. He went 5 for 5. It was the perfect example of Jeter rising to the occasion in the biggest of spots and having a flair for the dramatic. He did it the Derek Jeter way.
Too often when a player is in decline, at the end of his career, it’s easy to forget what made him great, especially for someone like Jeter who was always about intangibles. Sometimes it takes a well-timed edition of “Yankee Classics” or “Yankeeography” to remember such things. Jeter managed to jump into a time machine and bring every Yankees fan back with him for just one day, to remind everyone why he is who he is. It made me remember the home runs in the playoffs against the Mets and Diamondbacks. I thought back to the dive into the stands against the Red Sox and the flip-throw versus the A’s.
It made me smile.
Watching his postgame press conference was just as telling, as he handled the media with classy, honest and straight-forward answers. Never comfortable being the center of attention, he felt “bad” about stopping the game after his milestone. He said it wouldn’t have felt right to be celebrating the occasion if the Yankees had lost. The win was more important than the record, the perfect statement for his entire career. It’s a perfect example of how Jeter has always gone about his business.
That’s why Saturday was off the charts — not because of Jeter’s milestone and accomplishment, but because it made everyone remember why he is special. Everything great about Jeter was on display. The whole day went the way it was supposed to, and everything felt just right.
In a month, we’ll once again be worrying about his .260 average and lack of power, but there will always be Saturday, July 9 and all the other unforgettable moments that came before. His numbers may not be what they were, but he’s still Jeter.
Saturday reminded me and all other Yankees fans of that very simple truth.
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What did you think of Jeter’s big moment? Let Schmeelk know in the comments below…