Saturday, September 20, 2014

Derek and the Last Goodbye

It has all been a prelude, a buildup to this moment. As each actor has left the stage, the crescendo has increased. Now, with the spotlight cast fully upon the last man standing, the roar is deafening.

And the team has done its part, moving out of the way, long since having given up any chance of carrying on to further glories. There is no suspense or meaning to these games other than to be witness to the end of an era. It is as if no one else exists on the diamond. As we cast our eyes upon the field, we feel we are in a final embrace, one last dance with our partner, the power and beauty of two decades of memories cascading before us.

They were considered the four cornerstones of a generation of greatness. But there were truly five. When the center fielder left in 2006, his passing from the scene was duly noted but hardly felt. The team was at the height of its power, the stars were in abundance and his contributions were never as deeply acknowledged as they might have been, due in large measure to his quiet demeanor and the understated elegance with which he went about his craft.

The next to depart, from that class of four who emerged as if born of one moment in the mid-1990's, was the catcher, tough and gritty emblematic of the space he occupied, scrapping and clawing for every inch of turf. And when he walked off the field after the final out of 2011 his glory was large, but the shadow he cast was still dwarfed by a squad good enough to reach the post-season and by his three brothers who still toiled with such unerring success.

In 2013 the unending circus surrounding the third baseman sucked some of the air out of the building.  And the southpaw twirler, who seemed to live in perpetual agony while on the mound, always dissatisfied with his performance, always reaching for a higher level of perfection, pawed the rubber for the last time at season's end.

Gone with him was the greatest of all time at the position at which he held supreme from first pitch to last, a study in absolute contrast to the noise and tumult at the hot corner. Humble and seemingly devoid of ego, the consummate worker, punching the time clock day after day, year after year, focused only at being the best he could be. And in his rare moments of failure, accepting the consequences with a grace and dignity rarely seen. As the team struggled and ultimately did not advance, there was an ability to stand back and appreciate the masterpiece that stood strong and erect, on that raised platform. The league paid tribute and the noise swelled. But in the background there was still one more, whose time was nearly over and who we glanced at even while we stared as the reliever threw his last pitch.

In 2014 there have been no distractions, nothing to take our focus, our energy, our heart in various directions. All the heroes have disappeared, the next generation of star having departed for the west coast. The cast of characters that was paraded before us were almost interchangeable, virtually unknown, and if they were once or possibly future stars, they were not in this year.

There he stood, forever resolute, dedicated to the task at hand, always ready, always eager, always wanting nothing more than to put on the glove, pick up the bat, play the game.

His struggles in this final go round were irrelevant. We were here to pay tribute to a body of work, to an era that had disappeared, to a player who seemed to rise above the rest, to the captain of the ship. We were here to thank him for all that he had accomplished and for everything in which he believed.

In a time when disturbances seemed to overtake the sport, when accusations of wrongdoing  badly damaged its image, when we longed for nothing other than the purity of pursuit, when many beside him were concerned with self promotion and the joy in watching them perform was muted, out of all this mess and above the fray he stood. Implacable and undeterred, the next moment being the only one that mattered, his greatness nothing if there was no glory for his teammates. He was the embodiment of everything we held dear, with steadfast and unwavering dedication, with wonderful talent and wondrous maturity from the first day he put on the pinstripes. He understood that this was about something much more important than himself.

Numbers don't tell his story. They are but figures upon a page but cannot begin to reveal the mark which this man made on those who, for nearly two decades, had the privilege of seeing the sport played the way it was intended.

And as we rise and give our prolonged applause and wait for the last light on the stage to be extinguished, we must consider ourselves most fortunate. Thank you a thousand times over to Bernie, to Andy, to Jorge, to Mariano and finally to truly one of a kind. Derek you allowed us to love baseball and to remember the reason we are so drawn to it. You will be sorely missed.


Anonymous said...

Is it being published? It is very good


Anonymous said...

This is fabulous.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This is fabulous!!!!


Anonymous said...

Great piece of nostalgia and a great piece of writing.


Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC! Why haven't the papers offered you a regular sports column yet?


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. So well and eloquently said.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic writing--THE LOVE OF THE GAME!


Anonymous said...

How touching. And you’re right about Bernie!!!