By Father Gabe Costa
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It is difficult for most — if not all — people to deal with aging. One slows down in so many ways as retirement looms, and life, as we once knew it, changes. The hustle and bustle is lessened, the joints creak, the mind is not quite as sharp and we grudgingly make concessions to Father Time.
I suspect that for professional athletes, like major-league players, aging is particularly hard to swallow. The bat speed is reduced, the legs are heavier. the arm is not quite as strong — the game is just harder to play.
Derek Jeter is experiencing this in his most disappointing season. The captain is rounding out a first-ballot Hall of Fame career; he may well be considered the second greatest shortstop of all time (after Honus Wagner), and he will certainly rank as one of the top 10 Yankees in history. His pristine image, quiet leadership and professionalism have already marked him out as the successor to Joe DiMaggio. It is easy to envision Jeter introduced last at future Old-Timers’ Days: “…and here he is…the greatest living Yankee…No. 2…The captain…Derek Jeter!”
But Jeter is still active, so to speak. More than once he has been on the disabled list this season. His “start-and-stop” attempts to return this year have been marred with leg injuries. Always careful not to reveal his emotions, Jeter has got to be extremely frustrated. It is still unclear whether he will return, with any regularity, for the last half-dozen or so weeks of this campaign. And to add insult to injury, it seems that the Yankees’ chances of making it into the postseason are dwindling. This is no way for the captain to retire.
I suspect that Jeter will return for the 2014 season. Can he play shortstop? Will he be the club’s primary designated hitter? Will he call it a career after next year? Only time will tell. But as his rocking chair beckons, Jeter will almost certainly bow out gracefully, and with few, if any, regrets.
Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) is another story. There is no need to go into the mega-circus which presently exists. With a 211-game suspension hanging over him — and so many nuances and nooks and crannies associated with A-Rod over his career — many fans of the Bronx Bombers are spewing out the word “Enough!” Given the team’s dismal record thus far — and what seems to be the likelihood of finishing below .500 for the first time in over two decades — many rooters of the Yanks would be just as happy if the season ended now. Win, lose or draw. Enough!
In the midst of all this, Rodriguez, of course, endures. He seems to thrive on controversy and is, in many ways, quite the opposite of Jeter.
The only thing they have in common is that they excel on the diamond. And even then, the battles in which A-Rod is embroiled in clearly call into question the validity of Rodriguez’s achievements. He is presently in the fight of his life.
At this point no one knows how the A-Rod opera will play out. It is conceivable that he could be in a Yankees uniform throughout the 2017 season.
How good was the “real” A-Rod? I suspect we’ll never know. I believe he really loves to play the game, and I have always seen him hustle. But his records are tainted. His sincerity has been called into question. And, at this point, for a number of reasons, it is difficult to imagine Rodriguez getting into the Hall of Fame.
Sooner or later, he, too, will sit in a rocking chair. I hope he will be surrounded by loved ones. For all the money, for all the material acquisitions and for all the fame, it seems that he has thus far lived a life with a particular restlessness of heart.
I hope when he is retired he will have had at last found peace.
If not sooner.
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