All of our lives, we’ve lived in the shadows of the Bronx Bombers; we’ve hid our faces behind the Yankees' World Championship rings and hung our heads at Hall of Fame introductions. How have we never had a Derek Jeter?
As they grew up the prodigy child of America’s past time—always everyone’s darling, dancing gracefully in the spotlight—we grew up the bastard child of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. We were born a replacement. Did we ever have a shot at the attention when the pearly white Yankees played in our same city?
Their fans came from Manhattan, and we couldn’t walk down Fifth Avenue without seeing a hustle of Yankees hats on every child or construction worker. Our fans came from Queens, and we were far outnumbered. George Steinbrenner owned their team. A guy named Mookie might have been the best player for ours.
That was the way of the world.
In 1996, manager Joe Torre had his eyes on a certain young star to begin his career at shortstop for the men in pinstripes. When Derek Jeter entered the scene, the mayor of New York City was on board with the future of the franchise.
“As mayor of New York for his first eight years, I always thought about the great example he set for young people in the way he played and handled himself, including that he doesn’t argue with umpires, even when he’s disappointed in their calls—he’s the Joe DiMaggio of his era,” Giuliani told ESPN.
As Giuliani started becoming the biggest Derek Jeter fan since Derek Jeter’s parents, Mets fans knew that the Yankees had something special. The Yankees had what that they could never have. With Jeter they were, once again, owning the largest market and maintaining power over the entire world with fans across the globe.
What was a Mets fan supposed to do?
Mike Piazza became a beacon of hope for the New York Mets and all of their fans, but Piazza was no Jeter. In my most essential years of becoming a baseball fan, the Mets had made the 2000 World Series (now commonly referred to as the "Subway Series," against the New York Yankees).
In Game 2 of the series, Mike Piazza’s bat broke and the barrel flew at Roger Clemens. Clemens, who earlier in the season struck Piazza with the fastball that caused him to miss the All-Star Game with a concussion, threw the broken bat at Piazza, and both benches cleared.
If someone would have thrown a broken bat at Derek Jeter, New York City would have imploded. That’s just what Derek Jeter means to this city.
Becoming a Mets fan was not as glorious as the books and movies make it out to be. We’ve won only two World Series titles. We only have one player in the Hall of Fame. We’ve never thrown a perfect game. We’ve never thrown a no-hitter.
The poster boy for the Yankees success, Derek Jeter, is also the poster boy for what the Mets are not.
Derek Jeter is clean shaven and, much like a Yankee, treats his affairs as if he were a businessman. We’re shaggy, our best player has dreadlocks, and when we lose games consecutively, the entire team grows beards.
Derek Jeter is rarely at the forefront of controversy, always appears to be handled and composed, and has the look of the player that your grandmother would want her granddaughter to fall in love with.
For decades, our ball boy also doubled as the team’s cocaine dealer, our ownership was caught in the middle of the Madoff scam, and last season our closer was arrested for beating up his girlfriend’s father.
If you type “injury” on Jeter’s Wikipedia page, it will come up once in 1995 (before he was in the Major Leagues), and then not again until 2008. The New York Mets currently see their entire infield (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Ike Davis) on the disabled list.
Derek Jeter has made the playoffs every year of his professional career except 2008 (when he may have been injured) and is noted for his exceptional postseason play. Derek Jeter never could have had this same success if he had been playing in Queens.
It’s difficult not to like Jeter.
Like Barry Larkin came out and said this afternoon, “Derek Jeter represents everything that is good in baseball.” That isn’t far from the truth. Jeter is charismatic and has never been a player that someone can actively hate without citing envy or jealousy as a prime objective behind the emotion.
Is he too pure for my taste? Yes, he absolutely is. Still, it’s difficult for me, even as a Mets fan, to dislike Derek Jeter the player. His intentions always seem to be of the most genuine concerns, and baseball appears to be an honest love.
He has acted as a role model for an entire generation—something that has become less frequent in contemporary society for the modern athlete—and his leadership has helped with consistent athletic success for the biggest market in professional sports. Above all, Jeter has been the face of a fabled franchise that has seen the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.
Now with 3,000 hits, Jeter joins not only the Yankees greats as he becomes their first player to reach the milestone, but also an elite club of individuals (Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr., Rickey Henderson and Roberto Clemente to name a few) that have ever made it this far.
The smile on Jeter’s face, as he rounded the bases for hit No. 3,000, will be looming in the minds of every New York Mets fan. Of course, the Baseball Gods allowed him to hit a homerun. How could they not? Karmic fruitfulness can be an awfully sweet thing.
As Jeter reaches acclaims and successes, a Mets fan is forced to wonder about one thing: What will be the fate of our spectacular shortstop? Alex Rodriguez recently said that the Mets have “the world’s greatest player playing shortstop.”
While a beautiful compliment for both the organization and for Reyes, perhaps there lies a deeper agenda behind the slugger’s words. With Jeter getting obviously older, the Yankees may be realizing something. They could be an odd man out at shortstop.
Known for signing players at the peaks of their careers rather than building through the farm system (see: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, every pitcher that they’ve ever owned, etc.), the Yankees infield could be one man out with Robinson Cano handling second base.
If the Mets are unable to sign Jose Reyes this offseason, an obvious suitor would be the rich and spoiled Yankees. The Yankees owed it to Jeter to let him reach 3,000 in pinstripes. Now that it’s out of the way, Reyes could be on their radar.
The New York Mets could see Reyes sign a deal bigger than Carl Crawford’s over for the Steinbrenner's. Their ownership can watch Reyes stay healthy and active. His former teammates can watch Reyes slide into home plate during interleague play, as Ronnie Paulino fumbles the ball thrown in from Lucas Duda to home. The league can watch Reyes steal one hundred bases for the Yankees. Their fans could watch Reyes hoist a championship trophy in the air as the pressure is relieved for Alex Rodriguez.
Or we can be assertive and finally make sure that the “greatest player in the world” does not leave our hands.
If the Mets let Reyes slide to the Yankees, we could see another Nolan Ryan Hall of Fame plaque for a different team. How much would it hurt for it to be the Yankees?
If I’m Fred Wilpon, I’m wheeling in the injured superstar into my office, I’m closing the door, and I’m making sure that no one leaves until everyone’s smiling and the check is signed. We can even sign it in blood if it will ensure that Reyes’s fingers weren’t crossed or something of that sort.
As the owner of the New York Mets, Wilpon owes it to the Mets fans and to Reyes just as the ownership of the Yankees owed it to Derek Jeter to let him hit his 3,000th hit as a Yankee. Reyes is only 28 and already has over 1,200 hits. He is the obvious future of the franchise, and the obvious force to be reckoned with in this organization.
As the clock ticks on the remainder of his contract, it is imperative for the Mets to look across the city and see the joy of what it means for a player to play his entire successful career in one uniform in today’s game.