Derek Jeter has been uncomfortable discussing himself for 20 years, so it was a concern how Jeter would handle a day honoring his career while the Yankees were in the midst of playing significant games.
So it was an appropriate moment when Jeter ended his speech and Sunday’s ceremony by saying “We have a game to play.”
“I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of it but when I was done speaking and people were standing around, I thought it was time to say that we had a game,” Jeter said. “I definitely enjoyed it but I was well aware that we had to play a game.”
Everything about the ceremony was fitting from the guests and the gifts for Jeter, who unless the Yankees have a miracle run in them, will see his illustrious career end in three weeks following a game at Fenway Park.
Jeter said the ceremony was awesome and something he’ll never forget, especially since it was a chance for his family to take the field. Also taking the field were a guest list of former Yankees with a combined 41 championship rings with the team.
Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Joe Torre, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Reggie Jackson and Hideki Matsui were among those who listened to Jeter thank the fans, his over 400 teammates since 1996, managers and coaches and the Steinbrenner family for giving him an opportunity.
Jeter was lavished with gifts that included a $222,222.22 donation to his Turn 2 Foundation and a 10-day trip to Tuscany and a massage therapy machine.
The tributes poured in throughout the game as the Yankees let Jeter take the field alone to soak in the ovation. In between half-innings video tributes from throughout baseball and other sports and entertainment played, but the only tribute that didn’t go as planned was the Yankees winning.
Torre remembered the moment he thought Jeter would be fine after the rookie shortstop made an error in his first playoff game. Jeter simply told Torre to get his rest since the next game would be his important game.
Posada and Rivera stressed their belief Jeter is the No. 1 Yankee, at least among players they’ve been around.
“In my words, for me, he’s No. 1,” Posada said.
“Never saw Babe Ruth play, Joe DiMaggio or Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, but I saw Derek playing for 19 years in the big leagues, and some years in the minor leagues, and all I saw was determination and desire to be the best,” Rivera said. “Definitely for me, as Jorge says, he’s No. 1. I saw the man always want to bring the best and give the best for the team.”
And it had nothing to do with numbers since Jeter’s aren’t up there with those legends, but more to do the intangibles.
“He didn’t say too much, didn’t speak too much, but he said it all on the field,” Rivera said. “That’s what you want from your captain, or your main guy, to be in charge, especially in tough situations. You want the ball hit to him the last out of the game.”
It’s the kind of thing even those who played with him briefly waxed poetic about.
“He’s one of the most clutch players that I’ve ever seen in sports, not just baseball,” Tim Raines said. “When it came down to getting a big hit, making a big play, whatever it took on a baseball field, Derek Jeter had his hands on it. To have the opportunity to play with him for three years and watch his career flourish, it’s something I’ll always remember.”
The comments have been coming from all walks of sports and entertainment, which is why the Yankees also invited Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken Jr. and Dave Winfield to the ceremony.
Jordan said he was fascinated by Jeter in the 1994 Arizona Fall League, Winfield said Jeter was the most inquisitive rookie he ever encountered and Ripken labeled Jeter a true professional.
As much as Sunday was about trying to win a game, which the Yankees didn’t succeed at, it also was about honoring someone whose era is a few weeks away from officially ending.
“It was very strange,” Jeter said. “It was kind of a different situation. It was a unique situation. I don’t know if there’s been many people who have been in that situation so it’s kind of tough to explain how you feel. You appreciate all the support, all the kind words people are saying but at the same time you’re still trying to play a game. It’s difficult to juggle at times but it’s a very, very, unique situation.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.