What Does the Future Hold for Derek Jeter?
Derek Jeter is a sports icon.
Derek Jeter begins the 2009 baseball season as the shortstop of the New York Yankees for the 14th straight year.
Derek Jeter has won four World Championships as a New York Yankee.
Derek Jeter is the captain of the New York Yankees.
More than that, Derek Jeter is the face of the New York Yankees.
Derek Jeter is the Yankees Brand.
The New York Yankees are Derek Jeter's team, meaning, not that they're the organization for which he plays.
Meaning that whenever anyone thinks of the New York Yankees, the first image that comes to most minds is Derek Jeter.
On Jul. 26, 2009, Derek Jeter will be 35 years old.
For the past several seasons, talk has been building about his declining defensive skills.
This has continued despite the fact he won three consecutive Gold Gloves at shortstop from 2004-2006.
For the past two seasons, he has been slowed somewhat by injuries both to his legs and to his hands.
Some critics want to talk about declining offensive numbers as well, pointing out that he had to finish 2008 very strong to make the threshold of a .300 batting average.
But in 2007 he hit .322.
In 2006, he hit .343, almost winning his first batting title and finishing second in voting for Most Valuable Player in the American League.
New York Yankees fans have minds filled with images of Jeter over the past 13 seasons.
We see a very young Derek Jeter rounding the bases after a home run against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1996 Division Series with an assist from an even younger Jeffrey Maier.
We see Derek Jeter keeping his hands inside and driving the ball repeatedly to right field to lengthen a Yankees rally and drive in runs.
We see Derek Jeter running head long to a place on the field no shortstop had any right to be and extending to stab an errant relay throw in time to shuffle a pass to Jorge Posada to get Jeremy Giambi out at home in 2001. This sent the Yankees in search of another World Series in 2003.
We see Derek Jeter racing for a dying pop foul behind third base in a Jul. 2004 game against the hated Boston Red Sox, catching the ball and then crashing head-first into the seats, coming up bloody and bruised, but remaining in the game.
We see multiple flashes of Derek Jeter racing into short left field to grab a grounder back-handed and in one motion jumping, spinning, and throwing to first in a move we have never seen from another shortstop.
We see Derek Jeter putting words to sentiments all Yankees fans felt on the night the Cathedral saw the last live action on the legendary field.
We see a time in the future when there is a plaque dedicated to Derek Sanderson Jeter in Monument Park in the new Yankee Stadium, and his No. 2 hangs on the wall with all the other single digits of Yankees' greats.
But for now, we also see our beloved shortstop, our revered captain, our hero, growing older.
We know for certain that the years he can continue to dive into the seats after pop-ups and the days he can pirouette to make the long throw to first are dwindling down.
How many more years can Derek Jeter play shortstop in the Bronx? Two, three, maybe?
Can he play that position when he is 38?
Probably not, atleast not at the level he would expect of himself.
So, what happens to our captain in 2011 or 2012 when he knows better than any of us that he can't cover the infield anymore?
Options are already being discussed among baseball fanatics.
At one time it was thought the logical transition was for Jeter to become the first baseman.
But an eight-year contract for superstar Mark Teixeira eliminates that as a possibility.
Some say A-Rod will continue to lose flexibility in his hip and will have to become a full-time DH, allowing Jeter to move to third, where his reflexes will still be quick enough and range is not as important.
Without question, Jeter has the skills to be an outfielder.
Some think he will be converted to one of the corner outfield positions—probably left field.
Others think he may go the way of Paul Molitor and become a full-time DH.
Jeter does not fit the profile of most designated hitters. He has never been a power hitter.
But he is a productive hitter and will remain so. He is too valuable for many reasons to think the Yankees will ever let him leave.
A place will be found for the captain, for our hero, for the face of the Yankees, to remain in pinstripes.
Until that time comes, we can only wonder what that place will be and continue to marvel as he brings us other moments in time to store in our minds.
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