Derek Jeter never blew you away with any single talent during his career. Instead, he just did everything. He didn’t have blazing speed, his pop would come and go, and his glove in the field was known more for its steadiness than its flashiness. There was one quality that simply rose above the rest, though–the way he carried himself.
His demeanor was on display throughout his illustrious 20-year career, during which he produced timely play after timely play. It was written about 100 times over in the final season of his career. And it was what shone through during his jersey retirement on Sunday night.
After four former teammates–Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez–and his former manager, Joe Torre, were done raving about his value to the clubhouse and his composure under pressure, Jeter went out and reminded us exactly who he is. He joked around with his family as a six-minute tribute video played for a packed house at Yankee Stadium, then handled a swift on-field ceremony like a round of golf.
Surrounded by his peers and fellow Monument Park honorees, Jeter casually strutted toward a podium located near the Yankees dugout, then pushed aside the attached microphone–too formal. Instead, he grabbed a wireless microphone from underneath, stood, and delivered a four-minute speech that was completely unrehearsed. He spoke as if he were facing a room of 15.
“I was asked recently if I could trade places with one person, who would it be,” Jeter said in his address. “There isn’t a person or player I would trade places with that’s playing now or ever. And the reason why I say that is because I got a chance to play for a first-class organization and in front of the greatest fans in the history of sports.”
Jeter’s ability to craft such a line out of thin air shouldn’t have been surprising given, you know, his entire body of work in front of large crowds, yet it still felt somewhat impressive. Out of the spotlight since his playing days, he stepped right back in without missing a beat. When the vast majority of people in his position would feel overcome with emotion–and perhaps even cry–Jeter stood all-too-lax. To him, it was just another fastball on the outside corner to take into rightfield for a single.
He filled out the rest of his speech with obligatory thank-yous before putting a bow on it and stressing the importance of family, something he mentioned more than once during the night.
“You know, you play here in New York for 20 years,” he said. “I learned that time flies, memories fade, but family is forever–and I’ll be eternally grateful to be a part of the Yankees family, so I can’t thank you guys enough. Thank you very much.”
And after tossing out the first pitch, he would leave the field not to be seen again for the foreseeable future. With his Monument Park jacket (a new aspect of the player-honoring process that was introduced for the first time on Sunday), some bottles of wine and a replica of his plaque, he left the field to reflect on the night, deflect a few questions about his bid for the Marlins and spend an inning on the game broadcast.
Much like many of the Yankees’ recent ceremonies, it came and went in a flash, and provided the brief burst of nostalgia that the 47,000 on hand paid to experience. It was a standard jersey retirement, and standard Jeter. Cool under pressure.