By Ernie Palladino
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Of course, there will be no final postseason for Derek Jeter. That was all but decided long ago.
But at least we’ll have a package of memories to take as he heads off into the sunset. Next Thursday, after the final pitch against the Orioles, he will walk out of Yankee Stadium for the last time. Three days later, up in the uber-enemy territory of Fenway Park, it will end permanently, and the clock will start on what undoubtedly will be a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame entrance.
He has been justly honored — some might say overly so — more for the way he has conducted himself throughout his 20-year career than any of his remarkable feats on the playing field. And surely, the Farewell Tour probably did go a bit overboard, even though the Rays’ presentation of his good friend Don Zimmer’s jersey produced one of its most touching moments.
But this is what happens in this day and age. Sometimes, class is universally recognized along with greatness. So we can forgive the league-wide participation in a tour that would never have been conceptualized a half century ago. Even Mickey Mantle had to wait a year after his retirement before the Yankees honored him with a day.
We haven’t had to wait that long with Jeter. And now, Gatorade has created what may ultimately be the most memorable piece of that fabric. In 90 seconds, amid the backdrop of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way,” Jeter is portrayed communing with the regular fans and stadium workers.
He wears a white T-shirt, a king dressed down and strolling among the adoring commoners. He shakes hands under the El on River Ave., signs a poster, looks at a woman’s smartphone, admires a mural of his face on a security grate, and wanders into Stan’s Sports Bar.
“We’ve been waiting for you to come in here since ‘98, at least,” a bartender tells Jeter.
“You never invited me,” Jeter responded.
That might have been the most unrealistic part of the commercial. Everybody knows gods don’t answer letters, much less invites to saloons.
Despite that small shortcoming, the ad is touching and understated, and done with the same class Jeter exhibited throughout his career. It’s a nice part of the sendoff, though the thought of the great shortstop wandering through that neighborhood of low-end clothing shops, bars and parking lots is a bit far-fetched.
That’s the fantasy of advertising. And in this case, it goes right along with the fantasy of Jeter’s career. What other player goes to the postseason his first 12 years in the league? What other player becomes a vital cog to five world championships? And in this day of free agency, what other player spends an entire 20-year career with the same team?
The storybook element has existed throughout with Jeter. It will not end like that. But the Gatorade ad puts a sentimental exclamation mark to however this second failed season dictates it will finish.
It ends with Jeter gazing reverently at the retired numbers in Monument Park, buttoning up his game uniform, touching Joe DiMaggio’s quote that hangs in the runway. Finally, No. 2 striding out of the dugout and waving his cap to the adoring crowd.
Early signs indicate Jeter’s charmed existence will carry over to civilian life. He is rich beyond belief, rich enough to have started his own imprint at Simon & Schuster. The first book of Jeter Publishing hits the shelves Tuesday; not ironically his own, fictionalized story entitled “The Contract,” aimed at readers aged 8 to 12.
His Turn 2 Foundation will undoubtedly continue to help children long past the point where time’s passage will turn his career into a pleasant memory.
It would appear he is set. The rest of the season is simply ceremony.
Thanks to the Gatorade ad, we have one, last, touching glimpse of the great shortstop before he bids the sport a final adieu.
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