By Noah Gatsik | email@example.com
Photo by Dyann Busse
Every generation, there is a player in the professional sports universe that stands out above the rest. The Jackie Robinsons, Roberto Clementes, Wayne Gretzkys, Cal Ripkens and Tom Bradys make an impact not only in their era, but for the generations to come. Each one contributed something to their game that has made them immortals in the sports world.
For my generation, there is one player who established himself as a legend and ambassador in baseball: New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who recently announced he is ready to hang up his cleats after the 2014 season.
The Yankees drafted Jeter in 1992 when he was fresh out of high school. He made his major league debut with the team in 1995 and, one year later, became the Yankees’ full-time starting short stop. In his first year, he won Rookie of the Year and helped lead the Yankees to the first of many World Series titles.
Jeter is a five-time World Series champion, 13-time all-star, five-time gold glove winner and a five-time silver slugger award winner. He also became the 28th member of the 3,000 hit club. His stellar postseason performance has led to nicknames like “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November.” Jeter’s influence, however, goes way beyond that.
It is extremely rare to see a player stay with one team for his entire career. With free agency and the emerging trade market, players tend to leave and switch from team to team early and often.
Jeter has also managed to stay in New York, the largest market in North America, where athletes either achieve championships or bust. What separates Jeter from his peers is that he thrived off that expectation. Jeter’s expectations are not achieved just for his own glory, but for his teammates and the fans as well.
For validation of Jeter’s influence, look no further than Joe Post, starting short stop for the Flagler College Saints.
“There is no one in sports who has had a bigger influence on me and my life,” Post said. “He really is my inspiration. I’ve played his position since I was a little kid. I wear number two because of him. I learned the game through him. I’ve spent my entire life watching and trying to emulate him. He’s more then a sports star to me. Once he retires, the game will never be the same.”
Jeter’s respect goes beyond Yankees fans and fellow athletes. Opie Brodbeck, starting second baseman for the Saints, admires Jeter, despite the rivalry between the Yankees and his favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
“You look at Jeter and it is impossible not to show respect and admiration towards the guy,” Brodbeck said. “Considering the fact that he did all of this through the steroid era of baseball is even more amazing. He managed to not only stay clean, but keep his image clean in the hardest place to do so. He is the ultimate pro and his impact on baseball will never be forgotten.”
The fact that Jeter accomplished what he did in the steroid era of baseball, which began in the 1980s and continues today, and was never once linked or related to any performance enhancers speaks to his character.
Many of Jeter’s peers and teammates have been accused, connected to or even suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. It is the biggest problem in baseball today and once players are found guilty or even suspected of being guilty, their image and legacy are forever tarnished. Jeter played his entire career without the smallest hint of suspicion while his own teammates, including Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez, were directly connected to using performance enhancers.
As a biracial athlete, Jeter’s success also symbolizes how far we have come as a society. Richard Brown, a Flagler College basketball player, said Jeter has made fans look beyond color.
“To me, he really is everything you could possibly ask for in a professional athlete,” Brown said. “He does everything the right way and expects to win. He makes it easy to see past color and admire not only his athletic ability, but his character.”
Brown’s teammate, Matt Conway, had a similar point of view.
“When I think of the ideal professional athlete, Jeter is the first one that comes to mind,” Conway said. “You never hear anything negative about him. When I see Jeter I don’t see a black player or a white player. I see someone who does all the right things and cares about only one thing: winning. It’s impossible not to respect someone like that.”
As a former athlete, I look up to Jeter as a role model, but it’s not just about the statistics or the Hall of Fame numbers. It is rare to see someone show up every day for 20 years and put the team before themselves. But it’s also why Jeter has been the captain of the most prestigious franchise in sports for over a decade and will continue to serve as inspiration for years to come.