Sunday, July 10, 2011

3003

In the eighty-seventh game of his sixteenth full season in the Major Leagues, Yankees captain Derek Jeter became only the 28th player in big league history to get 3000 hits.  Yesterday afternoon, in a fashion that was typically Jeterian, needing two hits to get to 3000, he got five.  His fifth one - #3003 - drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning of a game the Yankees won against Tampa Bay 5-4.  

It was in his second at bat yesterday that Jeter moved from 2999 to 3000.  And in doing so, he did something he does not too often at all any longer.  He hit a home run.  It was only his third of this season and it was the first one he has hit at home since August of last season.  Of the twenty-seven other men whose company he joined yesterday, only one had hit a home run for his milestone hit.  The one?  Jeter's teammate on the 1996 World Series-winning Yankees:  Wade Boggs.  Boggs got his 3000th hit playing for Tampa Bay (yesterday's opponent).  When Boggs got his in 1999, the Tampa manager was Larry Rothschild who is in his first season as the Yankees pitching coach.  Also on hand for both occurrences was Tampa's play-by-play voice DeWayne Staats.  Considering that Boggs got his almost a dozen years before Jeter got his, Staats' longevity is nothing to sneeze at.

I am a Yankee fan who occasionally recoils in horror at John Sterling's "me first" play-by-play style.  Yesterday however even Sterling's most vocal critics would have a hard time finding anything to criticize in his call of Jeter's history-making hit.  Do not blame me for having to sit through Michael Kay's call on YES first.  I did not make the clip.  I simply retrieved it off of YouTube.  In the booth, Sterling is notorious for getting things wrong.  To my ear, yesterday afternoon he got everything right.

Jeter is the first player in Yankees history to get 3000 hits.  Perhaps if he played for something other than the team with the most illustrious history of any in the Major Leagues that would seem less surprising.  He also has the honor of having gotten all of his hits playing for the same team.  A remarkable accomplishment for a man who was prescient enough to predict as a school kid that he would earn his living playing for the Yankees.  He has indeed.

Perhaps it was fitting that Jeter hit a home run for his 3000th hit.  Putting the ball into the left-field stands allowed him to share his day with a young man named Christian Lopez.  Lopez was at the Stadium thanks to his girlfriend  - who bought him tickets for his birthday.  He had the good sense to bring his dad with him to the game and although Pops was the first member of the Lopez family to have a play on the ball, his bad hands (his kid's words - not mine) doomed him.  Christian scooped up the ball and moments later Yankee Stadium security were escorting Lopez and his dad to a meeting in order to learn his price for surrendering the ball. 

His answer stunned them.  He wanted nothing.  "Mr. Jeter deserved it. I'm not gonna take it away from him," Lopez said. "Money's cool and all, but I'm 23 years old, I've got a lot of time to make that. It was never about the money, it was about the milestone."  He met Jeter who gave him a handful of autographed items (jerseys, bats and balls).  The Yankees gave him four Champions suite season tickets to every home game for the rest of the season and through the playoffs.  A truly nice gesture on the ball club's part and also a good barometer of just how well the top-end tickets for Yankees home games do not sell.

As Jeter finished circling the bases, the first teammate to greet him at home plate was his best pal Jorge Posada.  As Jeter said more than once after the game, he was thrilled to see Jorge first because of all of the stuff they have been through together.  What could have been more fitting?  The sight of  Mariano Rivera, the Holy Trinity's third member, coming into the game in the ninth inning and doing what he does, which he does better than anyone else ever has.  All in all, a great day at the big ballpark in the Bronx. 

Driving home from the Shore, listening to the post game show on the radio, I could not help but smile.  I smiled not just for yesterday but for a day half a lifetime ago.  A day in September 1996.  Fan Appreciation Day.  A hot, September Saturday afternoon on which the Yankees defeated the Red Sox in thirteen innings.  A day on which my son saw Yankee Stadium for the very first time.  A day on which a rookie shortstop named Jeter won the game with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the 13th.  Thanks for the memory Derek.

And thank you for continuing to make more.  Well done.  And well-deserved.

-AK

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