Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Night Jeter Broke Gehrig's Record

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Two nights later, a rainy September Friday, the Yankees staged a pregame ceremony to mark the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that changed the world. The crowd of 46,771 honored the fallen, waited through an eighty-seven-minute rain delay, and then listened as Jeter walked to the plate with the elegant sound of Bob Sheppard booming over the public address system in his voice-of-God way.

At ninety-nine, Sheppard was no longer strong enough to work the Yankee games he had been working since 1951, but Jeter was not about to take a cut in the Bronx without that voice introducing him to the crowd. He asked Sheppard to record his voice so it could be played for the balance of the captain’s career, and the P.A. announcer called that request one of the greatest compliments he had ever received.

So Sheppard shepherded him to the plate one more time. Now batting for the Yankees, Numbah 2, Derek Jeter, Numbah 2. The fans were standing and the camera lights were flashing until the mighty Casey struck out.

The captain went down on a curve ball from Baltimore’s Chris Tillman before he ended the newspaper countdowns in the third inning, with puddles forming on the warning track and fans huddled under their wet ponchos. Jeter cut loose his classic inside-out swing on Tillman’s 2-0 fastball and laced it past first base, past a diving Luke Scott, and into a deep corner of Yankee lore. The hit was nearly a carbon copy of the one that had tied Gehrig’s record two nights earlier, nearly a carbon copy of a thousand other singles (or so it seemed) in Jeter’s career.

The shortstop rounded first base, extended his arms wide, and clapped his hands together. It was 9:23 p.m., and Derek Sanderson Jeter stood as the most prolific Yankee hitter of them all.

Jeter approached the first-base coach, Mick Kelleher, and rested an arm on top of his head. The Yanks came pouring out of the dugout, led by Alex Rodriguez, and one by one they hugged their captain as the crowd roared its approval. Jeter raised his helmet high, waved it to all corners of the Stadium, and pointed and pumped his left fist toward his family’s suite above the on-deck circle, where his parents, sister, and his serious girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly, had lifted their arms to the sky.

Wearing a military cap with the interlocking “NY,” Kelly grabbed the pendant around her neck and looked up adoringly at the woman some close to Jeter expected to be her mother-in-law. Nick Swisher, up next, dug into the batter’s box, but the fans kept chanting Jeter’s name, forcing him to wave that helmet one more time.

Once again, Charles and Dot had ordered their son to enjoy this moment. “It’s still hard to believe,” Derek would say. “Being a Yankee fan, this is something I never imagined. Your dream is always to play for the team, and once you get there, you just want to stay and try to be consistent. This wasn’t a part of it. This whole experience has been overwhelming.”

Jeter was surprised by the sight of his teammates coming over the dugout railing, and he was touched by the number of fans who had waited out the rain. “They’re just as much a part of this as I am,” the captain said.

George Steinbrenner would call his shortstop during a second rain delay, and the failing Boss would release a statement through his publicist that began like this: “For those who say today’s game can’t produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter.”

From The Captain

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