Growing Up in the Presence of the Last Baseball God (or, My Jeter Story)
One day, when I'm old and shot, and some little troublemaker who looks like me is in my lap after a Sunday dinner, I'm going to take the opportunity to pass onto him the desperate, passionate, eternal bond of the Yankee fan.
I'll give him the greatest gift of all, the knowledge of history.
I'm going to tell him all the great ghost stories I know.
Babe and Gehrig. DiMaggio. Martin, Ford, and Mantle. Mantle and Maris. Chambliss. Jackson. Bucky Dent. Munson and Murcer. Mattingly.
And then, having saved the best for last, I'll tell him about Derek Jeter.
No matter how many heroes' names are still waiting to be written in the great, never-ending history of New York Yankees baseball, his will be the one foremost in my mind. His will be the last name I ever speak of in hushed, awestruck tones. The last one who could do no wrong. My last Baseball God.
He was the last Yankee hero I knew when I was young - and the first I got to see play in person. He was Rookie of the Year and won a World Series when I was eleven and lost my first family member and my self-esteem. And from then on, for the next thirteen years, his (and his team's) exploits mattered more to me than my own.
I used the Yankees' utter dominance in 1998 and 1999 as common ground with a school full of people who could have given a damn. In the midst of a world crisis that would signal the beginning of the next Great American Decline, I believed, and kept watching, and hurt as badly on November 4, 2001 as I had on September 11.
In college, struggling to gain traction with my band and keep up with schoolwork, I skipped two full weeks of classes during the 2004 playoffs - only to watch a shadow of my former team self-destruct against its most hated enemy. I saw him try that night, with the Yankees already down seven runs and dead as dead could be, try desperately to drag the corpse of the old dynasty back into contention. His eyes flashed, and he clapped his hands hard from first base, trying to exhort any fight, any sign of life at all from his shell-shocked companions, and I wished that I was like him.
I saw him treat the game with respect, always. I saw his grin, night in and night out, as he remembered he was making millions to play a kids' game, remembering what a lucky son of a bitch he was to be here, while I got drunk night after night and bemoaned the laundry list of small aggravations that added up to my post-college life.
And I saw him break team record after team record, culminating in tonight's third hit - a hard ground ball past first base in the seventh inning to tie the immortal Lou Gehrig as the Yankees' all-time hits leader.
But his next plate appearance ended in a walk, and the world will have to wait til at least Friday to see him take the record all for himself. And I am going on seven months sober, and feeling finally like a man, and I have a date Friday night with a young woman who absolutely blows my mind.
Fate mocks me.
He's going to break the record on Friday, I'm sure. Probably in his first at bat. My former self screams at me, in my head, asking me if I'm insane. Somewhere in this is a story about growing up. Tonight, before witnesses, I resolve not to cancel.
And one day, when I'm old and shot...
Oh, who am I fooling? I'll probably tell the kids I saw him do it.
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