With the close of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season came the final chapter in one of the greatest stories in the modern sports era when longtime New York Yankee Derek Jeter stepped off the field for the final time. He leaves a hole in baseball, American sports, and our national fabric that won’t soon be filled. If I could write a letter to him to thank him for what he has meant to me, my children and all sports fans, here’s what I’d say:
I would like to think that if I hadn’t been a lifelong Yankee fan I’d still be writing you this letter. For instance, after you retire, I believe my new favorite player will be Dustin Pedroia of our arch-rival Red Sox. But I am a lifelong Yankee fan which makes the fact that you were in pinstripes your entire career all the more special and magical.
I’ve got four children, and I raised them all to cheer for the pinstripes. The oldest three are boys, 23, 21 and 19, and the girl is 17. So you can do the math. None of them has ever known their favorite team without Derek Jeter. Until now. The boys all still play baseball; the youngest two in college and the oldest just finished his first season in the pros. Obviously, we’re pretty into the sport and always have been. Some of my fondest memories are when my boys were little and we watched those great Yankee teams of the late 90’s and 2000’s winning playoff and World Series games. We’d all jump out of our chairs, high-five, even hug when there would be a game-winning hit or the final out in the ninth. None of us will ever forget those moments.
But is was much more than just the winning and the championships that made us love you. Other players have been on winning teams. And it wasn’t just your talent that set you apart. There are probably better fielders, better hitters, guys who are faster or have better arms. What makes me forever grateful that you were, for twenty years, the best player on my kids’ and my favorite team is one simple thing: You never let us down.
I raised my children to believe that an honest loss is better than a dishonest win. I instilled in them that it is always wrong to cheat. They grew up learning never to cheat an opponent, a teammate, the system – and especially don’t cheat yourself. Yet all around them, every day, there was evidence to the contrary. Athletes cheated with performance-enhancing drugs, made millions of dollars, and if they were caught, were instantly forgiven by hometown fans who apparently didn’t care how the wins came about. Men who my boys admired were revealed to be cheating on their wives and abandoning their families, only to be shown happily in the company of an actress or supermodel. And, on the field, guys who routinely didn’t try their hardest when their team needed them were rewarded with new and bigger contracts.
So you can imagine how, for years, as my young kids wore their Number 2 jerseys almost every day and we watched ESPN to hear about another athlete scandal, I warned them you could be next. I said ‘Don’t be too surprised if someday we find out Jeter isn’t all he appears to be either. We don’t know any of these people. They look like great guys for a while but they may not really be.’ I didn’t want them to deify you because I knew how absolutely crestfallen they’d be, how cynical they’d become, if one morning you were the lead story on the news and had been caught doing something unethical.
I’m sure you’re not perfect. But after playing in New York for all those years, with reporters knowing that getting some dirt on Derek Jeter would be the biggest scoop in their career, we never saw anything negative. And that’s incredible. No bar fights, no baby mommas or DUI’s. No reporters cursed out after asking annoying questions. And no PED’s. I can’t imagine the temptation, playing in an era when so many of your peers were doing it. But you stayed clean and still put up hall-of-fame numbers. The right way. Sure you dated a lot of pretty women – good for you. But you were wise enough not to start a family with someone who you weren’t going to stay with. I think you plan on being there for your children when you have them. Maybe that’s your legacy. You don’t break kids’ hearts.
So, I’d like to thank you, Captain, for the past twenty years. For all the thrills, the hustle, the integrity, and for proving to my family for two decades that you can be a great player and a great gentleman. I doubt we’ll ever again have someone on our favorite team who will remotely compare. But I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that for a good chunk of our lives we had you.
Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.sportsbooks4kids.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.