If anyone can relate to Derek Jeter right about now, it's Cal Ripken Jr.
Ripken, like Jeter, was a shortstop who spent all of his brilliant 20-plus-year career with one team and is considered an ambassador for Major League Baseball. Also like the New York Yankees captain, Ripken's final All-Star Game featured his very own dramatic, if somewhat controversial, performance.
After all, it was back in 2001 when Ripken played in his 19th Midsummer Classic at age 40—the same age as Jeter—and opened the scoring in the bottom of the third inning with a dramatic run home run off Chan Ho Park in his first at-bat, prompting all sorts of speculation that the Los Angeles Dodgers righty might have put one down the middle deliberately for the Baltimore Orioles star.
Well, Tuesday's All-Star Game was the 14th—and final—one for Jeter, who is retiring at season's end, and you've no doubt seen, heard and read all about "Groove Gate."
That would be the suggestion—and soon-after retraction—by Adam Wainwright, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander who started for the National League, that he may (or may not) have grooved some pitches for Jeter, who led off for the American League with an opposite-field double.
Ripken, now a TBS MLB analyst, chatted with Bleacher Report about his last All-Star experience and shared his thoughts on "Groove Gate."
And because Ripken—a Hall of Famer who holds the record for the most consecutive games played with 2,632—shares so many similarities with Jeter, he also discussed his own sendoff from the sport and what Jeter might expect as he says goodbye.
Q: Obviously, the big topic in the wake of the All-Star Game is what Adam Wainwright said about the way he pitched to Derek Jeter in the first inning. What are your thoughts on all of this?
Ripken: I think it's a little contrived. You've got a big-league pitcher throwing a big-league fastball. Pitchers do make mistakes and throw it down the middle from time to time when they don't intend to.
As for the notion of whether Wainwright grooved a pitch, I think a better interpretation is that he has such respect for Derek that he was going to give him a fair chance to perform. I think what Wainwright was saying is that Jeter has earned the respect where, in this particular setting and in this particular game, I'm just gonna go right after him, and Jeter is going to have a fair chance to get a hit.
I can see why people will start to jump to conclusions, but the reality is: Did Adam Wainwright throw it in there at 65 miles per hour? No. [Laughs]
Q: How do you compare what happened with Jeter's first at-bat with your memorable home run off Chan Ho Park in the 2001 All-Star Game:
Ripken: It's kinda comical to me, because I hit that homer on a first-pitch fastball that was 95 miles per hour, and it was in the shadows in Seattle's Safeco Field, too. [Editor's note: The pitch registered at 92 mph in the video above.]
Chan Ho Park had no conscious thought that he was going to throw a fastball down the middle; he had just come into the game at that point after Randy Johnson pitched the first two innings. I came up to lead off the inning, and it was the first pitch he was about to throw, and more than likely, it was gonna be a fastball. I was looking for a fastball, or at least a pitch to hit, early in the count—and I got it.
Q: Your career and Jeter's career are related and intertwined in a lot of other ways, too. You both played shortstop. You both played for the same team for your entire career. You're both iconic, well-respected figures in and around Major League Baseball. Have you talked to Jeter over the course of his final season?
Ripken: No, I haven't talked to him yet, and I'm sad about that. I was doing the broadcast for a game of the Yankees-Twins series in Minnesota just before the All-Star break [from July 3-6], and I thought I'd get a chance to run into Derek. But it rained a little bit that day, so we were scrambling, and I didn't.
I'm disappointed in myself that I haven't searched him out and talked to him a little bit. I've been watching him, though. He's going to go through some emotions, and it's only going to get more emotional for him as it goes on—even though he's the best at handling his emotions and keeping things under control. You can't help but get emotional for him.
Q: Seeing how you went through a similar farewell tour back in 2001 that Jeter is in the middle of right now, what sort of advice would you give him?
Ripken: He's going to have even more responsibility to the fans and the media down the stretch. That's going to be a little more intense, and yet, he still has to focus on playing baseball. When your main job is playing everyday, you really wanna preserve your focus for that.
I think it's wonderful that he's getting the opportunity to say goodbye the way he is. I know it's not necessarily in his personality to do it with a farewell tour, but I think the real value in announcing retirement ahead of time [as Jeter did last February] is that he can say goodbye, fans can say goodbye to him, and we can all bring closure to such a great career.
If I had a chance to talk to him, I would say, "Don't try and control it all. Go with the flow, and enjoy your last swing through the league. You deserve to feel those good feelings. It's going to be an emotional time. Don't try to fight that—let it happen."
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