By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – One of the best-loved players in baseball history, Derek Jeter resists the notion of his final season as a farewell tour.
The longtime New York Yankees shortstop disputes the label even as the Yankees tweet using the hashtag #FarewellCaptain and opposing teams do everything short of rolling out a red carpet upon his arrival at their stadiums.
“You say tour, it’s like you’re just going around shaking hands and kissing babies, but we’re still trying to win,” Jeter said Tuesday night. “I really have tried my hardest to not look to the end, which can be difficult at times because every time I’m going to the stadiums for the last time people are talking about it, but I’ve tried to take it day-to-day, and I’ll continue to do that, which I’m sure it’ll become more difficult as the regular season winds down.”
Teams have showered Jeter with gifts and recognition. The Tigers will honor Jeter with a pregame ceremony Wednesday. Detroit fans gave Jeter a standing ovation when he walked to the batter’s box at Comerica Park for the first time Tuesday.
Detroit players find the widespread adulation completely appropriate.
“He’s more than deserving of anything he’ll ever get,” Tigers reliever – and former Yankee – Joba Chamberlain said. “The man that he is, he doesn’t feel like he’s any different, just from hit one to hit 3,300 or whatever he has, all the years and all the things that he’s done. I think it’s just one of those things where it’s a respect thing that we can only do so much for him because he’s done so much for this game.”
Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said players appreciate Jeter’s approach to the game as well as how approachable he is.
“The guy beat us all the time, but you respect the way he played the game, and yet he’ll still come say hi to you,” Hunter said. “Most of the young guys that came up when I was with the Twins and the Angels, they’d come up, they’d slide at second, Jeter would always say something to them, and they’re like, ‘Wow! Jeter said something to me!’ He’s always getting that respect amongst the players.
“This guy was a clutch hitter, he’s a winner, has all those championships, led those guys to the postseason several times,” Hunter added. “This guy stepped up to the plate when the pressure situation calls for it. He got it done. Jeter, man, to me, the one professional you talk about in sports, he’s that guy.”
Tigers general manager Brad Ausmus, only a few years removed from his lengthy playing career, expressed similar sentiments.
“He has played on the brightest stage in baseball basically two decades and probably has represented the game almost as well as anyone that’s ever played the game in the history of the game, and as classy a guy, as tough a competitor, as I’ve ever seen,” Ausmus said. “He deserves all the praise he’s getting.”
Jeter’s 3,440 hits are the most in franchise history by a wide margin, and he ranks sixth on the all-time list behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker. Jeter and Willie Mays are the only players in history who have recorded at least 3,000 hits, 250 home runs, 300 stolen bases and 1,200 runs batted in.
* * *
Born in New Jersey but raised in Kalamazoo, Jeter said Tigers fans have given him some grief over the years but generally treated him well.
“I’ve heard, sometimes when I come here, I’m a sellout, I should be playing for the Tigers, but it wasn’t my choice,” Jeter said. “I was drafted by the Yankees. The fans, they’ve always been respectful. I think they have a respect because this is where I grew up, but yeah, you’re going to get your fair share of boos just because it’s the Yankees, we played here in the playoffs, so you hear some things, but for the most part, they’ve always been respectful.”
Before the Yankees drafted him, Jeter considered playing baseball for the University of Michigan. While he had looked at other schools, he particularly appreciated the atmosphere in Ann Arbor.
“When I really fell in love with Michigan when I went on a recruiting trip,” Jeter said. “I went to a football game, the guys took me out, I saw a couple parties, so I was sold on the campus of the University of Michigan. Plus I had some friends that I went to high school with that were going to the University of Michigan. I just felt real comfortable when I went on my trip there. My mom was pretty upset because she was a big Notre Dame fan; she wanted me to go to Notre Dame, but I chose Michigan, and I’m happy I did.”
Clearly, though, opting for major league baseball rather than college worked out well for Jeter. He has spent his entire career with New York, a rare distinction in the current sports climate and the achievement that Jeter says means more to him than anything else.
* * *
While Jeter does his best to concentrate on the rest of this season rather than the rest of his life, he looks forward to the flexibility of retirement.
“I don’t want to make plans,” Jeter said. “I think that’s the key. I’ve been on a schedule for pretty much my entire life, so when you get into the summer, for me, I don’t want to make plans. I want to have the freedom to move around and do what I’d like to do. Not saying I don’t like to do this here, but I’d like to just have no schedule.”
Chamberlain, who spoke about his old teammate in the Tigers clubhouse before Jeter addressed the media, envisioned Jeter dropping off the grid for a little while but eventually coming back to baseball.
“He’ll probably disappear for a couple years, but in some way he’s going to be back,” Chamberlain said. “He’s meant too much to this game, and he knows too much about it and he cares so much about the game that I don’t foresee him being gone too long.”
Jeter agreed he would like to be involved in some capacity, but he made it clear he does not want the everyday commitments he has met for the better part of two decades.
“I would love to be a part of an ownership group,” Jeter said. “I just can’t visualize myself being a coach or a manager because our schedule, you guys know as well, our schedule in terms of the travel and everything, I just don’t find that ideal. So I don’t see myself being a coach or a manager, but I would like to be a part of an ownership group where I could make the decisions.”
When players speak about Jeter, they laud his demeanor as much as his play. Jeter’s reputation in the baseball community comes as close to impeccable as it gets, and just as he has worked to be great at the game, he has strived to be masterful in other areas as well.
“I’ve always tried to treat people with respect because I want to be treated with respect,” Jeter said. “When I came up, I was never treated like a rookie. I was on a team that was going to the World Series for the first time in quite some time. I knew that people looked at me like I had a responsibility and therefore they treated me as an equal. I’ve always tried to treat people the same way.
“When you meet someone, you can forget what they say, but I don’t think you ever forget how they make you feel, so I’ve always tried to make people feel as comfortable as I possibly can,” Jeter concluded.
Based on the glowing endorsements he receives from just about everyone, that area seems to be one more in which Jeter has achieved unparalleled success.