By Jason Keidel
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For a few months now, the Yankees and their more throaty fans have regarded their “returning troops” with the profundity behind the Manhattan Project.
Leading the cavalry was Mark Teixeira, and we see how that went. Then it was Curtis Granderson, and we see how that’s going. Now we’ve got Derek Jeter, the third member of the sacred triumvirate, who’s ensconced in his second comeback from the same ankle injury.
Jeter assured us he would be ready by Opening Day, but was stung by the very stubbornness that made him a Hall of Fame player, rushing his return. This time he seems to have followed the doctor’s orders down to the letter.
So, what can we expect from the captain when he finally jogs onto the diamond? Is he the mutant to whom age is merely a number or the aging icon who struggled so mightily before 2012?
Is Jeter the difference between winning and losing the AL pennant? The division? The wild card? Just a week ago, the Yankees were far closer to last place than first. But an essential, six-game winning streak catapulted the Bombers back into to the wild card cauldron.
Is it fair to expect a 39-year-old shortstop, no matter his name, to lead a team 80-games deep into the season, to change it’s identity of odd underdogs, an amalgam of scrappy has-beens and no-names? Or can he just be the compass? It wouldn’t be fair to expect anyone, much less someone of Jeter’s vintage, to bolt to a sizzling start, bat leadoff, and lead them past the surprising Red Sox.
Jeter has gotten nearly a million votes to start the All-Star game, despite not taking one official swing this season. It’s a nice gesture from a fawning fan base clinging to the halcyon years. Frankly, if Jeter can hit .280, play solid defense, and drop invaluable wisdom on his eager congregation, then he has done his job.
At some point the Yankees are what they are. And A-Rod is not a knight in any armor. The beleaguered third baseman could face a suspension before he reaches the batter’s box. So it’s on Jeter to teach the haggard troops what September baseball is about. Assuming they’re around. Assuming he still can.
But we’ve been told that Jeter and A-Rod represent more than on-field statistics. Their return represents a return to order before and behind the media lens.
There have been myriad theories about the Yankees’ sagging attendance and woeful TV ratings. The consensus seems to be that the Yankees, a baseball galaxy of stars since King George stole the squad from CBS in 1973, needs celebrities as much as .300 hitters.
Or it could be that the new stadium and its obscene pricing has driven the blue-collar fan from the game and has become a trough for front-running, red wine and wind chime observers who need a certain, TMZ quality to the team in order to lug their iPhones to the seats.
No doubt the Yankees need some big names to satisfy fans and justify the $5 water and ten-buck beer. But victory is sexy and profitable on its own. And Derek Jeter, no matter his age or wage, should help them do what they’ve always done with him: win. At least a little more than they would have without him.
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