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Archive for July 10th, 2011

I was attracted to the numbers of baseball when I was a kid.  Those magical statistics that defined the performance of my favorite players, numbers that made the case that my favorite  was better than your favorite or at least gave me a hint as to how my favorite stood up against the numbers of the legends.  For instance, Ty Cobb’s .367 batting average and Babe Ruth’s 714 homers has been deeply ingrained in my memory for well over forty years, a span in which I’ve forgotten many other numbers that were more significant in my life.  So when when Derek Jeter reached the magical 3000 career hit plateau yesterday, I paid attention.

3000 hits is a venerable number to baseball fans.  In the 130 or so years of major league baseball only 28 players have ever reached this milestone number.  28 out of the countless thousands who have strode to the plate, bat in hand,  with hopes of one day reaching that exalted number.  It is a number that denotes excellence and durability, both traits that Jeter possesses.

Another trait for Jeter is his flair for showing himself in the biggest moments, as the many accolades he has received will attest.  Many other players have struggled with the pressure of reaching this and other milestones and have went into slumps, making the tension on themself unbearable as the games pass.  But Jeter would have none of that.  Needing two hits to reach 3000, he flew by the number with a legendary performance going 5 for 5 (that’s 5 hits in five at-bats or chances  for non-baseball fans) including a long homerun for his 3000th hit, a feat only accomplished by only one other player. 

But for all the numbers he has amassed, for all the World Series titles and records he possesses, one has to watch Jeter on a day-byday basis to get the full impact of what a great player he is. and what he has meant to the game.  I know for myself, he brought me back to the game after many years of having lost that spark for the game.  I was never a Yankee fan and often considered myself a Yankee-hater as I grew up.  Oh, I liked certain players, Mickey Mantle for example,  and revered their legends such as Ruth and Gehrig ( I remember with great clarity as 9-year old staring at Ruth’s glove in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown as though it were the Holy Grail) but the team itself rubbed me the wrong way.  I loved the underdog and they were never the underdog at that time.  I just couldn’t like such a team.

But that changed with Jeter’s rise to stardom.  He ran out every ball, did small subtle things that often changed the course of games.  He did some things very well and on those things that he didn’t  do well, he worked hard to make himself better.  As a young player, his fielding was somewhat suspect but as the years have went on his fielding has gotten better and better and now, even though his range is somewhat diminished, he is one of the most surehanded shortstops in the game.  Watching him on a daily basis, I was hooked on the game once more by something more than his numbers.

Yes, for Jeter you must judge him by more than numbers, even though he has an excess of golden stats.  For me, it was his ability to put aside failure, to not dwell on the last at-bat or error.  You never see panic in his game.  You never see him play with anger.  Oh, it might be there but his game face will never betray it.  It was this attitude of total effort that won me over.  I have never seen him take a game lightly or give a half-hearted effort and that is saying a lot in a game that stretched through three seasons of the year. He has taken a talent that could esily be squandered in the hands of a less disciplined player and transformed it into a Hall of Fame career through his hard work and attitude.

So, congratulations to Derek Jeter.  And thanks, for bringing a game that I loved back to me and for turning a Yankee-hater into a fan.

 

 

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