Thursday, February 13, 2014

Number Two

I was one of those fortunate to be in the stands on the evening of July 1, 2004 when "the catch" happened. There was an intensity to the game that belied the fact the Yankees were 7 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox. (Who then could ever have imagined this would be the season the curse died?)

Drama surfaced in seemingly every at bat in the later innings. At one point the Sox employed five infielders in an effort to choke off the winning run. All appeared lost for the home team in the top half of the 13th, as Manny Ramirez homered. But an improbable hero, John Flaherty, responded  in the bottom of the frame with the winning hit deep into the left field corner.

It was perhaps the most compelling regular season game I have witnessed in more than a half century of attendance at the home of the Bronx Bombers.

But nothing that night, nothing compared to the image of a bloodied Derek Jeter emerging from the stands, baseball firmly in his mitt, to stop a Boston rally in the 12th. From my vantage point I had a perfect view of the play as it unfolded. Shading the left handed batter slightly towards the middle of the diamond, Jeter was in all out sprint as soon as the little looper began its brief ascent. There was scant time to consider the consequences.

His outstretched glove captured and cradled the ball as he moved, in full flight, across the foul line in short left field. The stands were but a few feet away and avoiding potential calamity was an impossibility.

He was not the first nor last player who ever "gave up his body" for his team. Witness the catcher who braces for certain seismic impact as ball and runner meet simultaneously at the plate which he protects with a ferocity worthy of a mother standing guard over a new born child. Or the outfielder who runs full tilt into an immovable object called the outfield wall.

But there was, in that instant, an embodiment of everything that made this particular man so special. This was more than a catch, it was a statement of the importance of this game, of every game, of every pitch. It was what we expected and received from Jeter from the moment he appeared in pinstripes. There was a pride and a commitment not only to excellence but to effort that was reenforced with each stride as he raced towards not only a quickly descending ball but certain danger.

This was Derek Jeter whether the opponent was the Red Sox or the Royals, from the most meaningless of times to the most critical. Everything and everyone deserved respect. It was what the game demanded and what Jeter unfailingly delivered.

The Yankee shortstop was not at the stadium when the winning run crossed the plate that night. He was on the way to the hospital to tend to his wounds. But the imprint he left behind could still be felt by everyone in attendance.

A copy of that famous photo, signed by number 2, hangs in my home. It is a constant reminder of everything wonderful that Derek Jeter has provided baseball fans for nearly twenty years.

1 comment:

Shirley said...

Yet still no expression in those dead eyes