Thank You, Derek Jeter, for Saving Baseball

I started at my present job in the fall of 1994, at the end of one of the more depressing baseball seasons of my life, thanks to the player’s strike that killed the postseason for that year. Baseball, it seemed, was at an all-time low.

In May of the following season, Derek Jeter made his major league debut with the New York Yankees. Since then, he has gone on to become not only one of the best all around players of his generation, but in all of baseball history. And what is more remarkable: he did it while keeping his ego in check, and being a role model that kids of all ages (including the “kid” of 23 years old that I was back in 1995) could look up to, and rely on to be a good example. For twenty years, Jeter has maintained that high standard.

Yesterday, Gatorade released a new commercial featuring Derek Jeter that has gone viral. I’ve probably watched this commercial a dozen times now.

At first, it was the artistic elements that drew me to the commercial: a choice of music, a good choice of how it was shot (black and white). But there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put a finger on. People have said that watching the video gives them goosebumps. It certainly had that effect on me. But why?

The reason, I think, dawned on me earlier this evening. As I said, I started my present job not long before Jeter started his with the Yankees. That twenty years has gone by in the blink of an eye. I wonder what it must be like for someone like Derek Jeter, who worked hard as a kid to make it to the big leagues, and then lived a dream, becoming one of the best players of all time–and now, he’s retiring and that part of his life is coming to a close. This final season of his has been like the credits at the end of a movie, one that you want to end, but that you wish would go on and on forever. If the last twenty years felt like blink of the eyes to me, what must it feel like to Jeter?

The new video captures some of that, and it comes across. When he nods to the camera at the end, just before he walks out onto the field, it is like an acknowledgement that all good things must come to an end. He’s cool with that, even though it makes us shed a reminiscent tear for halcyon days.

I’ve thought it a little strange that Jeter is getting the kind of send off that he’s been getting all season, but I no longer think so. Everyone, fans, players, owners, wants to say thank you to Jeter. They are thanking him for something that he probably had no idea he was doing when he made his first major league appearance in May 1995, when baseball was reeling from the strike, and was soon to be plagued by a decade of disappointing role models, thanks to steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Through all of that, there was one player that fans, kids, old-timers, sports writers, managers, owners, and other players could count on not only for excellence on the field, but for excellence in character.  The send-off Jeter has gotten this season is a thank you from everyone.

They are thanking him for saving baseball.

Which is exactly what he has done for the last two decades.

 

3 thoughts on “Thank You, Derek Jeter, for Saving Baseball

  1. The other narrative I’ve heard is that the home run derbys of the late 90’s (before they turned into bitter fruit thanks to the steroid revelations) is what saved Baseball post-Strike, but I do think Jeter was a good counterpoint to all that.

  2. Hi Jamie, I quit watching baseball in 1994 after the strike you mentioned. Fast forward to 2014. I was sidelined with a detached retina, forcing me to remain inactive for 10 weeks. As a result of trying to pass some time, I subscribed to MLB.TV to pick up on a pre-1994 enjoyment, watching the Blue Jays. I’m embarrassed to admit that I really did not know who Jeter was until August of this year. Apparently baseball wasn’t even on my radar for 20 years thanks to that strike. In watching the league reaction I feel like I missed an important piece of baseball history though thankful for the opportunity to do some catch up through highlight reels and Gatorade commercials. Thanks again for the post.

  3. After he takes some time to do whatever he may want to do immediately after his retirement, I hope he’ll come back as a coach. This man has set an amazing example of how to excel in a sport while remaining a very classy individual. Young men coming up in professional sports need his example now more than ever.

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