Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities. Its right field is one of the deepest in the American League, while its left field is the shortest. The high left-field wall, three hundred and fifteen feet from home plate along the foul line, virtually thrusts its surface at right-handed hitters like a green monster . Which is what hub fans call it.
They added seats to the top of the Monster in 2003. The cameras were doing a slow pan of fans sitting in them, high above the park, just as I turned on my TV to watch the Yankees and Red Sox game. I had some fellas over to play cards the night prior and my room was a real mess. Short term tenants could practically destroy a room and get away with it, but month to month tenants like me were always getting charged extra. The game was starting but there was food everywhere. Chips, cold cuts, pickles, popcorn, pretzels, you name it. Half eaten and left out. Beer cans too, empty and used as ashtrays. We had gone all out. I didn’t want a maid coming in and bothering me about the mess so I went to work fast. I threw all the beer cans into a garbage bag on the balcony and took every edible looking bit of food and jammed it in between some bread with whatever condiments were left out before I threw them back into the fridge. Everything else I stuffed under the sink. I was ready.
Then it all came back. Oliver. That’s why I had woken up on the pull out sofa. He was still asleep in the bedroom. I can’t get rid of the guy. He’s been hanging around here ever since his wife left him in mid-September. He keeps trying to make himself useful so I won’t throw him out, and it’s driving me nuts. If he isn’t forcing some kind of soufflé taste test on my hangover just after I’ve gotten out of bed, or begging me to get some girls to come over for the lasagna he made for dinner, then he’s serving cocktails with umbrellas in them for the guys during cards night. The fellas, of course, love the all-night service, but I’m not exiled in this dump at my age because I like companionship. Anyway, he was still asleep. All was good. I lay down in a half-recline and took a bite of my left out all night shit mix sandwich, then resumed my observations of Fenway Park in Boston, from my freshly cleaned hotel room in Hollywood.
It was “a picture perfect day,” as Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo described it. His voice boomed into the room through the TV as the scene continued to be set by a series of establishing shots. I had the volume at full in the hopes of annoying Oliver out of his slumber and into thinking that this wasn’t a great arrangement. Maybe then he’d find another guy to harass. It was hot in Boston for a late September Sunday. Summer had stuck around like a stray goose that forgot to migrate south. It would wind up on someone’s table for dinner if it stuck around much longer, so fall had to be on the way. I thought about how foreign changes in season had become. In another life I lived in New York, and hated the approach of winter. Now I thought I almost missed it. In Hollywood, there is only one season; it’s called California.
So it was an afternoon in Boston, and a morning in Hollywood, but for everyone the day seemed filled with promise. Funny, because the game didn’t mean a damn thing. The Boston team had gone from 2013 World Champions the year prior, only to stumble out of the gate this spring, landing them dead last in the American League East. They never recovered. The New York Yankees were better, but being 4 games behind their only chance of making the playoffs on the last day of the season didn’t exactly render any expectation that a nail biter was about the unfold.
It was fine. I, and the 36,879 spectators at Fenway, along with the countless others watching, listening or following around the world, weren’t much interested in the game part of baseball anyway. We were watching the Red Sox and the Yankees play their last home game of the season, and therefore seeing the last time for all eternity that the Yankees shortstop, known to the headlines as CAPTAIN CLUTCH, MR. OCTOBER, or put most simply, and with the least fanfare, DJ, would set foot onto the field of Fenway Park.
“SOX FANS BUY INTO JETER GOODBYE,” ran a tweet on my phone that was partially obscured in a smear of mayonnaise on its touch sensitive glass from the sandwich I was eating. I was trying to gauge what Boston thought about celebrating Jeter. The makeshift signs on the television, dotting the park as the camera panned the stands, provided more proof that the misery this man put Red Sox fans through for two decades was all but a memory. “#2 ON THE FIELD, #1 IN OUR HEARTS” read one, held up by a lady laboring under the weight of her arms to keep it high enough for all to see. “FAREWELL 2 A LEGEND,” read another, held by two fellas smiling about their achievement. I thought it looked a bit odd for guys this old to be making cardboard signs in the garages and basements of Massachusetts.
It was obvious that the Red Sox nation had undergone a transformation from foe to friend towards Jeter. But why? The only tale these two cities have told since the start of the American Revolution has been nothing but competitive fervor. In 1901, the economic, cultural, educational and artistic antagonism between New York and Boston found a new venue within which to enact their bitter rivalry; it was baseball. For over 113 years, these clubs have shared milestones, neck and neck finishes, fights, curses and treasons. Now they were gathering with the kind of respect that only great enemies can command at the end of battle. And while the war between the Red Sox and Yankees was far from over, it was set aside for a three game series that started on a Friday and was about to end on September 28th, 2014. Everyone watching had to realize that one of the greatest eras of this neverending rivalry was coming to an end. So was the career of a player that had devoted his life to it.
It wasn’t always this way. The long affair between the city of Boston and Derek Jeter has been no summer romance; it’s been an arranged marriage, composed of spats, disappointments, and now, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories. As Captain of the “Evil Empire,” he was largely responsible for the Yankees’ resurgence this past generation. Helped by the inception of the wild card team, and an added Division Series in 1981 that allowed him to stoke the flames of New England’s hate for pinstripes more than any other Yankee before him. The relationship lasted over 20 years, and falls into three stages, which may be termed Youth, Maturity, and Age; or Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis; or Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.
When the young, scrawny bachelor showed up on rookie assignment for the Gulf Coast Yankees in 1992, Red Sox fans didn’t pay much attention. He struck out 5 times in 7 at bats, and failed to get a single hit in his first game. By the end of the season, his average was .210, and he owed $400 in phone bills from trying to cure homesickness. The 56 errors he amassed in his first season at Class A didn’t get him any introductions to Hub fans from the dowagers of local journalism in Boston either.
It wouldn’t be until 1996 that Red Sox fans would get a look at their bridegroom. Jeter was in the lineup for a short 2-game series that started on Monday, July 1st, in New York. I’m no mythology expert, but his 3 and 0 performance at the plate that day could hardly be compared to a young Greek hero that holds the hair of a winged ram, giving him the magic and authority to defeat anyone or anything. Jason, Derek Jeter was not. That would all change as quickly as Tuesday though, when the relationship would begin to flower into heroics and frustration. Batting dead last in the order, he went 4–4 with 2 RBI’s, helping the Yankees to sweep the series and send the Red Sox packing.
Fourteen days later, on July 15, 1996, Derek Jeter would arrive at Fenway Park for the first time as a fully formed threat with a magic bat in his hands. Now he was 1st in the order, with a climbing average of .280. Although the Red Sox would win that game 8 — 6, he would lead off the 1st inning with a single blasted to right off Tim Wakefield. Thus began the long exchange of boos, jeers, and distaste year in and year out that would define the early stages of Jeter’s honeymoon with the Boston public.
After that fateful appearance at Fenway in 1996, he would lead the Yankees to win the World Series in October and continue the tradition by bringing three more Championships to New York before the end of 2000. Throughout that golden Yankee era, Red Sox fans suffered through a 78 year World Series drought. It was the worst of times for baseball in Boston. Each fall, any rising hope of finally reaching the World Series would be put to rest by the ALCS and the arrival of the Yankees with Derek Jeter at short. He would play nine postseason games at Fenway, make 726 plate appearances, hit 14 home runs, and repeatedly prove that New York was a symbol of everything Boston was not.
Greatness necessarily attracts debunkers, but in Jeter’s case the systematic, unrelenting drive to win that he consistently displayed in front of the assembled crowds at Fenway, more than any other visiting player, earned him a dislike tempered with respect. Once the Red Sox finally won a Championship in 2004, and again in 07, the tension eased even further. Despite having been forced upon each other through the arranged matrimony of the 162 game season, Boston fans began to recognize Derek Jeter as a player that set a standard for greatness in Major League baseball.
By the time he entered the middle frame of his career, Derek Jeter had evolved into the personification of Achilles — known for the slaying of the enemy in front of their own city, a weak heel, and the embodiment of the people. This Achilles had matured in the digital age of media en masse. No other player before Derek Jeter had been covered so thoroughly by the press, had been seen by so many people, in so many ways. His ability to endure this generation’s erosion of barriers between public and private, and emerge from growing up in front of the world unscathed without a single blemish on his reputation could arguably be a greater feat than anything he achieved on the field. During the 1999 All-Star game, when Derek Jeter stood beside Boston legend Ted Williams, at Fenway Park, the chasm between Williams’ career long inability to appease press, public — even himself — couldn’t be further from the clinic in PR mastery that Jeter was only beginning to execute at the start of his career and the digital age he would mature through.
Only a short paragraph or two has been written about his origin. He was raised by an African -American substance abuse counselor father, and an Irish, German and English accountant mother in New Jersey. Introduced to the concept of the contract at an early age, Derek’s parents would make him sign a yearly document outlining the limits of acceptable behaviour. The world “can’t” was not to be used. He had a younger sister, named Sharlee. He was taken to Yankee games in the Bronx by his Grandparents, and Dave Winfield was his favourite player. The only legacy Derek Jeter created away from the diamond of a baseball field was the Turn 2 Foundation that he created in his rookie year with his dad to motivate children into healthier lifestyles away from drugs and alcohol. That is all that is known. Once he began playing sports in high school, his destiny would begin to turn the wheels of fate for a life on the field, under the watchful eyes of the crowd, in full costume.
His only offense against the fans has been to be present as a player, but not there as a man. Seeking a perfectionist’s vacuum, he quixotically spoke without saying anything, lived a public life without living through anything, and in the process removed the ability to see the grief of the human condition inflicted upon the rest of us in context to the heroics he was known for. He would not let us see him as we saw ourselves. Unlike Ted Williams, there have been no marriages, no messy divorces, and no sparring sessions with the press or fans that revealed an unspoken darkness deep within; darkness that can only be procured through the oppression of existing year after year. Jeter didn’t drop a bat and go to war either. Instead, he lived the life of a young bachelor celebrity in New York, and used the key given to him by its citizens to go anywhere, do anything, and date almost every available world-renowned beauty of the time, yet never reveal what that fantasy world was really like. Out of everything we stuffed into the canon of his career: the thousands of post-game questions; the late night talk show interviews; a guest host appearance on Saturday Night Live; and a mountain of information created in every medium possible; nothing fell out. To sever the game from its larger purpose — as a metaphor for the relentless rhythm of life, with all the splendor, failures, successes, and ends that come with it — has been a theory that paid well in forcing the public to focus on nothing but a mass of statistics showing that day in and day out he was no slouch in the clutch.
Whatever residue of life remains in the career of No. 2, those of us who love Jeter must transmute as best we can, in our own personal crucibles. My memories of Jeter begin at the start of the new millenium, when the stage was being set for a subway World Series between the Mets and Yankees. I was living in Queens then, with a family and the press credentials to get into Shea stadium. I filed regular dispatches on the Mets for the very short lived National Sports Daily and the New York Daily News. Change was in the air; isn’t it always? The era of the sportswriter that forced the profession to actually be at a game to report on it, with an audience waiting patiently for a relay of the events that unfolded behind the walls of the stadium up to 12 hours after it happened, had long since vanished. Newspapers still had a meaningful place in people’s lives though, so there was work.
I was part of a group of fellas that bounced from the box at Shea, to Belmont Park, then the Gardens, or Yankee Stadium and onward, deep into the night. We felt as if we were the unknown laureates of the morning, our words lying in stacks of newsprint on street corners, waiting to be delivered by a footlight parade of distribution staff that would put the news into the bare hands of a city awakening to a new morning. I was never home, and developed a liquor problem. By the time the fall arrived in 2000, I was barely writing anything, and running out of money to keep the facade of a functioning family intact. When Jeter came to Shea, with the Yankees 2 games up on the Mets for the 3rd game of the World Series, I was there in a physical capacity only. I woke up with the residue of a memory that Jeter had struck out in the top of the 9th inning, and the the Yankees had lost. Game 4 was a blackout, I don’t remember a single thing about it, but notes from that day without doubt had me in the box at Shea. Near incoherent fragments ramble on about Joe Torre’s decision to make Jeter the leadoff man — a first at bat — home run in the 1st inning — Yankees win. Other writers did a much better job of contextualizing that managerial decision as a defining point in the series. The Yankees would go on to win every game after it and take the World Series on October 26th in Queens. I didn’t publish a word. No. 2 was continuing to write notes in the history books of baseball, while I wrote the half-told story of another kind; my demise as a New York sportswriter.
Four years later, divorced, and living in a Manhattan hotel room about 125 square feet in size, I was in the midst of the darkest days of my life. I was completely alone in the world, and the constant of Baseball was the only thing I could form a life around. Day games would get me out of bed, sometimes even dressed. Night games would allow me to focus on where I would take dinner at a local pub. The game was a shroud to my loneliness, allowing me to sit in solitude amongst crowds under the guise of “here to watch the game.” Of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, is well suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game, and although I never wrote a word during my time in Manhattan, Yankees games were what kept me alive. Through the 12 inch television set supported by my dresser, or the small AM radio I kept in the pocket of my Haggar slacks, I watched or listened to Derek Jeter manage the stress of fame, fortune, and high performance athleticism with near perfection game after game, season after season, year after year. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.
I’m not sure what brought me out of my hotel room to purchase a ticket for a seat in the Bronx to watch the Yankees play the Angels on August 2oth, 2004, but it would represent the final time I would be in the same real-world space as Derek Jeter. Sitting in the right-field stands that late summer evening in the darkness of a night soggy with humidity, I ate an entire bucket of popcorn and listened to John Sterling call the action in front of me, and through my radio, like I was at a dinner theatre on the Great White Way. Jeter was putting on a show right from the get-go, starting the game by taking 1st on balls, then 2nd with a stolen base, and finally reaching 3rd on a throwing error charged to the Angels’ catcher. But the inning would end with him stranded there, across the stadium from where I sat, due to the inactive bats of his teammates. That’s as close as the Yankees would come to scoring all night. Coming up again in the third, Jeter quickly doubled, but again, nobody could bring him home. Then, in the 7th inning, the scoreboard went black, the house organ silent, and TV feeds out of the stadium went blank, all on account of a power outage that to this day can only be attributed to folly. Despite the 5 — 0 score, and the 53 000 other spectators in attendance, it felt like the moment had been orchestrated so that Derek and I could be in the singularity of each others company without distraction; our disparate paths entwined in a technical glitch. When he came back to the plate in the 9th, he flied out to left. The game was over. I took the Lexington Express back to my hotel room and single bed.
The next year, life got better. Not because I did anything to make it that way, but sometimes things just take care of themselves. I moved from New York to Hollywood. I wanted to forget baseball and start writing for television, but spent more time listening to Dodgers games while I played cards with some of the fellas I met around here than I did writing. A website called Bleacher Report welcomed amateur sports journalists and bloggers to submit articles, and it seemed like an ideal place to start over. I was nothing in this new world, actually, come to think of it, I was just plain nothing. Having to submit a 500 word sample of my writing for approval seemed like an insult until the terror of rejection set in, forcing me to beg my inbox for an activation email until it finally came.
My first article for Bleacher Report was a bit about all the sexual tension that young athletes coming up through the Minor League system must create for their lonely billet hosts. Then it went on to discuss the sexual relationship I was having with my landlady here at the hotel. I couldn’t help it. In my mind, the two were related. I was a stranger here in Hollywood, and my lonely landlady made it pretty obvious that she could make living in my new home very difficult if I didn’t make her lousy existence more pleasurable. It came as little surprise when my status as a Bleacher Report contributor was promptly revoked. Thankfully, my landlady was fired for running her own side-racket of prostitutes out of a garden level room at that back of the hotel. She was a real piece of work. You meet all kinds in this place, there’s something about a pool in the middle of a flophouse that brings everyone together.
I was blacklisted from the papers, denied from Bleacher Report, and out of ideas as to how I was going to get some resemblance of my former self back. Then I met Willard, by the pool of course. He lived with his parents in one of the cheaper, but less hospitable month-to-month suites above the parkade of the hotel. Instead of a small balcony and view of the main courtyard area — like most of the suites here had — Willard and his folks were forced to pursue a reprieve from their beige carpeted living quarters by staring at the commuter traffic of Franklin Avenue through a couple single-paned windows. If he wasn’t hanging around the lush center courtyard of the hotel, betting kids on spring break trips to Disneyland for their allowances on a game of ping pong, then he was usually chatting up one of the long-term residents in exchange for some time on their patio. You could find him anywhere, except his room. One afternoon, he had his laptop on a lounger by the pool and was pounding away at the keyboard with a towel over his head to block out the sunshine. I asked him what the hell he was doing.
“I’m writing in my Tumblr, Mr. Madison,” he said in an eager tone that was muffled by the towel hanging from his head. I put the cigar I was relighting back in its ashtray sitting on my bare chest, and took a moment to look at Willard before answering. So polite, I thought. This kid was obviously full of shit.
“Yeah?” I answered in a drawl, “and just what the hell is a ‘Tumblr?’”
“It’s a website you can use to share pictures and stuff you write, or find from other Tumblr people, Mr. Madison.”
“Well, what the hell,” I said, “take that damn towel off your head and let’s get a look at this thing.”
“Sure, Mr. Madison. Check it out,” Willard said. He pulled off the towel, revealing a mess of California locks. Every second spent looking that kid’s hair was like staring into the essence of your own mortality. I tried not to focus on it as Willard eagerly pushed his screen towards me, squinting in the sunlight. “I’ve been writing about all the people in the hotel here,” he said, while scrolling through the pages of his blog.
I couldn’t make any sense of it, line for line it was all the same crap that went something like:
‘Mr. Wingham in 109 had his dishwasher replaced.’
‘Tom Marshall, 218, is travelling with a musical till Friday.’
‘Joey, 334, says he’s having a ping pong tournament tomorrow.’
‘Mr. Madison, 111, is bbq’ing on his balcony.’
‘The police were at Mrs. Shaw’s in 101 for 2 hours this morning.’
It was meaningless minutiae of the halfwits that called this place home, and the transients trying to save a buck by vacationing here. There was something to this Tumblr thing, though. I had been looking for a place to write. One that would allow me to write whatever I wanted, whenever I needed to.
“Allright. That’s enough,” I said. “Listen up, because I’m going to give you some advice if you want to be a writer. That is, if you’ll show me how to use a Tumblr.”
”Oh, sure Mr. Madison! It’s easy,” he said.
“OK,” I said, “Here’s your advice. Stop fooling around with words. Words are serious. You have to learn to use them like a guy plays notes on a guitar. And use them to talk about what people are thinking about, not just what they’re doing or saying.” Willard looked at me with a blank but interested eagerness. “Real communication,” I went on with the lesson. “Get it? Not this chatter box you have going on here.”
I probably hurt the young fella’s feelings some, because I didn’t see him for 3 days after that. Eventually he started coming back for more critiques of his writing though, and that’s when I received an education of my own: the ability to self publish.
Although I had no audience, I felt liberated from my ruined reputation in New York, and free from the desperate attempts of a publication like Bleacher Report at trying to get one. Now if I wanted to write about plowing the landlady, there wasn’t anything anybody could say about it. Baseball and life. The two simply could not be separated, and mine had changed significantly since those late-90’s days in Queens, Manhattan, and of course, the Bronx. Except for Jorge Posada’s exit from the game, and Alex Rodriguez’s short fall from grace, I didn’t write much about the Yankees or Derek Jeter. The Pacific Time Zone didn’t bode well for a guy from California trying to cover baseball in the east. While I was having the fellas over for cards, eating pre-cooked ribs from Fresh & Easy on the patio, watching the sunset, or taking dips in the pool to stave of the dry heat of California, I missed some of Jeter’s greatest achievements: his farewell speech after the last game at old Yankee Stadium in 2008, the record for most hits as a shortstop in 2009, his 5th World Series win later that same year, and his 3,000th hit in 2011. While I slowly reassembled the life I had destroyed in New York, I became detached from the milestones of No. 2.
On October 13th, 2012, Derek Jeter could not be avoided. I had the TV above the end of the bar at the Frolic Room on Hollywood Boulevard tuned to the opening game of the American League Championship Series, when I saw him diving for a ground ball in the 12th inning. In his attempt to stop an advancing Detroit Tiger club that had already scored 2 runs to take the lead, he overextended himself, and forced the entire weight of his body onto his left ankle; it broke. Lying in the outfield after play had subsided, he was unable to rise. When he finally did, helped by his manager Joe Girardi, he rose as someone else — something else. Not Achilles, but Nestor, the aging warrior and great councillor with a voice of wisdom that produced words sweetened by a honey that could only be obtained through age. As for battle though, this Nestor’s season was over, and without Derek Jeter the Yankees failed to post a single win in the series, ushering in a cold winter of discontent in New York.
The warmer months of 2013, didn’t bring any resolution. In fact, it seemed all but over. Jeter, now 39 years old, a senior citizen in baseball years, came back to his life at Yankee Stadium on July 11th, and was immediately tested in his first at bat by being forced to outrun a throw to 1st after hitting an infield single. Although he would score a run, and help the Yankees beat the Royals 8–4, he would feel stiffness in his right quadriceps and return to the designated list of injured players. His return to the game on July 28th looked promising as he hit a homerun off the very first pitch sent his way, but after fighting injury and battling through pain he returned to the DL on September 11th, as the end of the season neared.
“The entire year has pretty much been a nightmare physically. So I guess it’s fitting that it ends like this, huh?” Derek Jeter said during a press conference before quickly burying any negativity that could be associated with his comments. He followed it shortly after with a more Jeter-like response, “I truly believe with a full off-season of working out and getting my strength back that I’ll get back to doing what I’ve always done,” but surely the wisdom that he had earned made him realize that what he had always done couldn’t last forever. There must have been something in him that was orchestrating a gameplan to leave the game with his legacy intact.
When he felt confident in his rehabilitation in the early months of 2014, he knew it was time to play the last season of his career — the announcement came on February 12th. The end wouldn’t come in just a final game though. Instead, the start of the 2014/15 season would launch a 6-month long goodbye to a 20 year long love affair for No. 2; Yankees fan or not. “I want to finally stop the chase and take in the world,” he said, with words that hinted at the irreality of life spent on a field for two decades.
It was an inevitable truth, the 2014/15 season would be Jeter’s last. So why the schedule was left to leave him in enemy territory for the final game of his career is less an oversight, and instead, proof that the ritual of baseball changes for no one — nothing. The 3-game series he was assigned to play in Boston was a second act curtain call to the game he played on September 25th in New York. Years from now, that event will never not be attributed to the end of his 20 year fixture at shortstop in the Bronx. It was everything an end should be. In Yankee Stadium, in front of the hometown fans, with a 9th-inning walk off single to end his career in New York, and win the game in epic fashion. It was so poetic, it seemed fake, but we all know sport is one of the last things we can watch and be sure that what we’re seeing is the truth. He could have left it at that, and not travelled with the rest of his team to Boston, but no Yankee has played more games in Fenway Park than Derek Jeter. Throughout the years, the games, the cheers, tears, and heartache, Boston had earned its right to say goodbye to the Captain of the Yankees as much as New York did. So it was set. Sunday, September 28th, 2014 would be Derek Jeter’s 153rd and final appearance at Fenway, and the last game of his career.
After a highlight reel finish in New York, the star of the show was too emotionally distraught to play Friday night’s opening game of the series against the Red Sox. Instead, Derek sat on the sidelines and watched his Yankees post a 3–2 win over their long time rivals. On Saturday, he was back on the field, but since vowing to never play shortstop again he was restricted from any feats with a glove due to his role in the lineup as designated hitter. Appearances of The Captain for the fans assembled at Fenway were limited even further when he only made two plate appearances that afternoon. On the second, after hitting his 3,454th hit, he was removed from the game for a pinch hitter after appearing to tweak a hamstring, leaving the Yankees to be spitefully smothered by the Red Sox for grabbing headlines all weekend, 10 to 4. By the time the calendar rolled over to Sunday, ticket holders — some who paid upwards of $700 for a chance to see what would transpire on the final day of his career — nervously wondered if Jeter would even come out of the dugout.
Every true story has an anticlimax. The end of Derek Jeter’s career in Boston, while I sat in front of my television on a Sunday morning, watching from across the continent, eating leftovers that had been left out all night, was it. Just as the announcers began to downplay his involvement in the game by discussing the likelihood of an early exit after any kind of hit, Oliver walked in with haystack hair and a housecoat on.
“Oh geez,” he said, as soon as he saw what I was watching on the television. “Roy, didn’t I tell-ya to wake me up?”
He was already complaining.
“Why didn’t you wake me up!? I mean jesus, I thought I said. ‘Jeter’s going to be in the lineup tomorrow, Roy. We better not stay up too late,’” Oliver said. “But we stayed up too damn late. I told you those fellas wouldn’t leave before 3, and now, here you are and… well… you didn’t wake me up!”
I was trying to hear Boston’s color man, Adam Pellerin. His on-field opening remarks were no match for Oliver’s incessant gibberish, but I was still able to decipher that he was trying to tell internet and television audiences that before the game, The Captain had been greeted and honored by former Captains of various Boston professional sports clubs; further proof hub fans had buried the Jeter hatchet. Oliver looked around the room, I tried to make as little space possible so he wouldn’t sit beside me.
“I would have helped to clean up,” he said. “All you needed to do was ask, and I would have helped, but no. You wake up, and you’re sitting there with a sandwich, taking in the sights, while I’m still sleeping, and the place is all cleaned up.” I thought about Oliver’s wife. I thought out Oliver’s wife waking up every morning to something like this.“I mean, why didn’t you just wake me up?”
“ALLRIGHT!” I said. “Who cares? You’re up, the game hasn’t even started, now shut up and let’s watch this.”
I started wondered how much of the game I would even be able to watch when the broadcast turned to a youngster named, “Olivia,” from West Newton. Olivia had been tasked to go through the starting lineups in her role as Junior Broadcaster of the Day. Sure enough, as she read off the names in her own signature, youthful exuberance, Olivia confirmed with finality, that Jeter would be in the lineup as a designated hitter, batting 2nd.
“Christ, I’m old.” I said outloud to the television.
“What’s that?” Oliver yelled from the kitchen.
Once he came back into the living room to look at the TV, Oliver gushed, “Awww look at that kid, ain’t she cute. Say, Roy, she’s got a career ahead of her, that one, ain’t she?” He handed me a Bud Light.
We were getting somewhere. The cameras couldn’t take their eyes of Jeter in the dugout. There was a game to be played, but every second they could get away with it, the camera’s gaze, prompted by the men and women in the control room, would return to Jeter. There was a Red Sox pitcher on the mound, there were players in the outfield, there was another Yankee getting ready to bat 1st, but it barely mattered. All eyes were on Jeter. His every meaningless move seemed to have meaning: the way he would look out onto the field; the way he would approach the on-deck circle; the way he rubbed tar on his bat; how he would take practice swings in front of a hoard of fans jawing at each other’s elbows, trying to get a photo.
“Gosh, look at the crowd around him,” Oliver said.
The Boston fans were less like a Sunday ballpark crowd and more like the folks you might find in Yellowstone National Park, or emerging from automobiles at the top of scenic Mount Mansfield. There were a lot of competitively well-dressed couples of tourist age, and not a few babes in arms. The first 5 or 10 rows in front of where Jeter was standing in the on-deck circle were all on their feet, some with an arrangement of cameras around their necks, but all of them holding a phone in the direction of The Captain in an attempt to get a picture. Someday, they would probably tell their grandchildren that they saw Jeter play, and show them the photo. I thought of the crowd. I always did anytime I watched a game. Like any event, it was presumably made of second-honeymooners, Harvard freshmen, Army officers, shiny salesmen, taxidrivers, slaughterers, and bartenders — but everyone, on this Sunday, looked the same.
When Jeter came to the plate in the top of the 1st, hub fans began to chant the infamous “DEREK JETER….DEREK JETER…..DEREK JETER…” that had been a staple of late-night October games in New York. The Captain got excited, and swung hard at the first pitch — a sinking 93 mile-an-hour fastball for strike 1. He set himself into the box for another chance. Another hard fastball down the line, and Jeter slapped at it with his bat, straight back into the glove of the Red Sox second baseman. With Derek out, the tension in the crowd eased, and the game returned to just another meaningless Sunday afternoon at Fenway, featuring two teams that failed to make the playoffs.
“Well shit, Roy, he’s not going to be back up till at least the 3rd. Let’s go for a swim,” Oliver suggested. For once, the guy was earning his keep in the ideas department. We grabbed two more Bud Lights and headed to the pool just outside my room.
Understand that Oliver and I, while complete failures in life, were two rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. We had just witnessed a brave effort fail. The air was dry and hot; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope for drama. This was one of those times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future just for Oliver and I.
Dripping wet, with a mild, mid morning buzz on our heads, we climbed back onto the still unmade, and still pulled out sofa bed for the 3rd inning. I surveyed our sagging, white bodies in contrast to the athletes on the field, and thought about all those years I’d watched Derek Jeter grow up playing a game, while I floundered through the complications of a different one; life. Finally, Oliver was quiet, and I thought to myself, could Derek Jeter manage another epic event only 3 days after the one in New York? All baseball fans believe in miracles; the question is, how many do you believe in?
Jeter came to the plate again. “Let’s go Mr. October!” yelled Oliver. Two runs had already scored in the inning and the top of the order had come around to bat again. Ichiro Suzuki was waiting at 3rd base for Derek to bring him home.
“It’s September,” I returned with a deadpan response that was steeped in reality.
“Come on, Derek, let’s see a homerun!” Oliver yelled towards the TV without heeding my warning. It didn’t matter though. I could tell he didn’t even want to hit a homer, because there can only be one ending to an ending. And besides, gods do not answer letters.
“DEREK JETER….DEREK JETER….DEREK JETER…” the fans at Fenway started again. Derek got set and took strike 1, low and away. The next pitch was a ball. Another pitch fired from the mound registered as a strike, forcing Jeter into a 1 and 2 count, and the ball into the stands. The lucky fan that caught the now legendary ball from one of Jeter’s last appearances at the plate was now taking centre stage as the cameras hung onto the moment while #2 got ready again. He was a young man in his mid-twenties, and as the magnitude set in as to what he was holding, he started to receive hugs and kisses from the friends that surrounded him.
“Easy …. easy,” mumbled Red Sox broadcaster, Don Orsillo, like he thought he was off the air and registering a private moment of discomfort at the affectionate display.
“Now that, Roy, is friendship. Just look at those kids,” I could sense Oliver getting into it again. “I just think that’s the sweetest damn thing. Hell Roy, this is really special…”
“OLIVER! Watch the damn game,” I cut him off quickly just as the cameras returned to Derek Jeter set in the batter’s box.
The infield was in, the entire Yankee dugout was up on their feet. The 1–2 pitch came down the middle, Jeter chopped at it hard again, making it bounce off the ground in front of home plate, sending it high towards 3rd. The Red Sox baseman couldn’t reach it, so the ball was quickly recovered behind him by a scrambling shortstop, and sent to 1st. It was too late, Jeter was already there, and in the process, scored a hit and an RBI when Ichiro crossed the plate. Yankee manager, Joe Giardi made himself visible to Jeter at the entrance of the dugout and waited for a signal from 1st base, which, after a pause, Derek confirmed that he would come out of the game. His hit to 3rd would go in the books as #3465, and his final RBI would be noted as his 1311th. A pinch runner was sent in to play the rest of the game for #2. It was all over. The crowd started with the Jeter chant again, as Derek, in a gentlemanly way, approached the mound to shake hands with the Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, who had delivered the ball for his final at bat. After he made his way to the dugout, he hugged his entire team, 1 by 1, in a very business-like fashion in contrast to the romance we had witnessed in the stands only moments ago. Then, a final curtain call, as Jeter tipped his batting helmet to the fans at Fenway, and that was it.
“Let’s go. We’ve seen everything. I don’t want to spoil it,” Oliver said. This seemed a sound aesthetic decision. Jeter’s last word had been chosen. It wasn’t perfect, but it was what he intended, and what we expected — a proper finish. Already, the day seemed empty, so we got dressed and walked down to Hollywood Boulevard for a late lunch. Jeter’s hit had made the score 3–0, but by the time the game ended, 11 more runs would cross the plate before the score would be finalized for history’s sake at 9–5, for the Yankees. We were already deep into steaks at Musso’s by that time, full with confidence that we had seen all there was to see. Sure enough, Derek Jeter never came out of the dugout again. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.