Five years feels like an eternity. I’m not the same person I was five years ago, and I’m certainly not in the same place either. Things were in a constant state of flux for me back then, and even though I by no means have things figured out now, I wish I could go back to the person I was back then and tell them that in some ways, Derek Jeter’s last home game would essentially be the beginning of a new path.
The thing is, I guess it wasn’t a new path as much as it was me going down a path that I had gone down before. It was the road of baseball that I had strayed away from.
Baseball in my life
Baseball had always been a part of my life growing up. One of my first memories of it was watching an extra-inning game with my mom after we moved to my childhood home on Long Island. It’s hard to pinpoint the year, but it had to be 1994 or 1995.
At the time, I didn’t know what baseball was. I was 6 or 7 and my mom was reacting to this thing on our small TV as if it was a life or death situation. On top of this, one of my first friends in the neighborhood was over and his feet stunk.
It was summer. Things were hot. He didn’t believe in shoes or socks. Not even sandals. Just bare feet. Between the game and the smell, my mom was angry.
I don’t remember if the New York Yankees won or what happened to that friend. I just know, from that point forward, the Yankees were on all the time. It made sense too. This was the beginning of a new era. It was the championship era of Jeter, Bernie, Andy, Coney, and Mo. Soon Posada would join them.
At some point, my uncle moved in and if he wasn’t working with my dad at his pizzeria, there was a game on in our house. If I went to my dad’s pizza place in Brooklyn – mostly Saturdays – we watched whatever nationally televised afternoon game was on. For the most part, it was always the Yankees.
My memory of those ’95 playoffs is foggy, but I remember more vividly the moments of the 1996 playoff run. Jeffrey Maier’s moment stands out the most. I particularly remembered newscasters after the game interviewing people coming out of the stadium and asking them if they thought it was a home run.
The reporter interviewed one Baltimore Orioles fan coming out and hanging on to their life as they entered the streets of the Bronx. You can guess how he felt about that short porcher. People coming out of the stadium were laughing and cursing at him, and the people watching the game with us on TV weren’t any better. Everyone crowded around this little TV at my dad’s pizza place started cursing at this Orioles fan being interviewed. (Metaphorical things were shoved up his metaphorical ass. It was a Brooklyn thing I guess.)
As a kid, I’d never see adults act in this way together. I didn’t know it was possible. At that point I always expected the adults to just be lifeless and unfun. Baseball brought them all to life though.
As I got older, I started watching games on my own. I consumed everything. My dad, a New York Mets fan and pizza man, obviously had a man-crush on Mike Piazza. That meant I also loved Mike Piazza because my dad did. After he was traded over from the Marlins, I then became one of those weird kids that would not be tolerated on the Internet these days – and rightfully so – that consumed both New York teams.
By the way, remember this guy? My excuse was that I was a kid. What’s his? I shed that Orange and Blue coat before I could vote.
This dude knows Mets fans have more fun. pic.twitter.com/olDde1ph92
— The 7 Line (@The7Line) August 10, 2019
I also consumed Sunday Night Baseball with Joe Morgan. I’ll always have Joe’s voice in my head because of all of those Sunday night games. From there, I was introduced to rivalries like the Cardinals and Cubs. I was also introduced to teams like the Astros as well.
The good Astros with Roy Oswalt and Craig Biggio. (Not the sewage dump that spawned that half-rat/half-human Altuve.) I especially loved Biggio because he was a Long Islander like myself. I always saw him as essentially being the Texas Derek Jeter.
Once the YES Network came around, I was in heaven. My friend AJ – a guy who consumed baseball as much as I did – watched Yankeeographies with me all the time. Most people went on dates in high school. We had Elston Howard and Jorge Posada Yankeeographies memorized. We digested ALL of them.
It was baseball. It was the Yankees. We were obsessed with history and just learning about everything on those docs.
Now I don’t remember the exact moment I fell out of love with baseball. I did though. Looking back, I’m sad letting it get to the point where baseball went from being in every aspect of my life to just not being in at all. It happened a little after the Yankees had won the 2009 World Series.
It’s funny, a lot of us here at the Bronx Pinstripes remember that World Series pretty fondly but I just remember smoking weed in my friend’s car, half paying attention to it on the radio and fully expecting the Yankees to win. Whether they won or lost, my emotions weren’t attached to it.
I thought this was the beginning of a new dynasty. I didn’t think I needed to go nuts over it. It was expected, despite the fact that they hadn’t won since the year 2000.
For a while after, I paid attention to the moments and still knew what was going on with the Yankees but I just didn’t care or have the passion. It got to a point where I acknowledged baseball as a thing I watched as a kid and that was that. I was all grown up, I thought.
There was college. There were college girls. More important than that there was weed. Lots and lots of weed. Baseball wasn’t something I fit into my life. You couldn’t smoke it.
That was until Derek Jeter’s last home game some five years later. After, ironically, five years of not watching, I somehow found myself in front of the TV under strange circumstances.
THE CAPTAIN’S FAREWELL
The morning of Derek Jeter’s last home game, I wasn’t thinking of Derek Jeter. In fact, I wasn’t thinking about anything but throwing up.
The night before I’d done jiu-jitsu (Which is really stupid because I never even played a sport in my life) and sparred with one of those gym heroes. I never should have been in that situation. The guy was bigger than me and the bastard clocked me like 5 times in the head. I didn’t know it at the time or even thought this could happen to a non-athlete such as myself, but I was concussed. As the night wore on I progressively became more and more sick.
I should never have fallen asleep but I did. When I woke up I couldn’t think straight. I could barely see straight and when I stood up, all I could do was vomit. Most of the day was spent throwing up or laying down so I didn’t throw up. I remember going to the gym and trying to work out. I barely got to the door of the Planet Fitness before turning back.
My girlfriend was a surgical resident at Stony Brook University hospital during this time. She recommended I just go there in case something was wrong with me. Were it not for her, I wouldn’t have gone. I would have just tried to tough it out despite not ever really being tough in my life. In the end, the momentary pain became a gift.
My parents drove me to the hospital that night. Sitting in the car made me nauseated. I laid down, closed my eyes and on the radio I heard John Sterling.
‘It’s Derek Jeter’s last game isn’t it,’ I remember telling my parents.
You see, at that point, not only was I not paying attention to baseball. My parents weren’t either. It was a surprise to hear John’s voice. It was like coming home again from my dad’s pizza place all those years before.
Jeter hit a double at the beginning of the game and you could hear the stadium from the radio think it was going out. There was such a playoff vibe. A packed stadium roared for this lackluster Yankee team having this tremendous moment. I just felt nostalgic.
I remember walking into the hospital and on every TV was the game. It was like Buffalo Wild Wings except people died there. Every person in the emergency room was watching.
The nurses. The front desk person. The paramedics coming in and out. Some guy on a gurney being rushed into the emergency room stared up too.
‘What’s wrong,’ the woman behind the desk asked me. I remember her glancing up at the TV to see who was coming up in the lineup. I remember glancing up too. After not giving a shit for such a long time I was starting to give a shit again.
‘I think I have a concussion. I’m throwing up a lot,’ I told her.
Behind me, the emergency room was semi-full. It seemed like my issue wasn’t much of an issue at all. Like I said though. I didn’t want to be there but my girlfriend just said I should go. She had the doctor tag. It seemed like I should listen to her.
In the waiting room, I filled out paperwork. The game was on and I just kept glancing up at it. My mom and dad were too. It was our first time as a family really watching a game since their original run. I don’t think I’d watched a game before this with my mom since Aaron Boone had walked it off against Boston.
When I was finally moved to a room, it was the ninth inning. By now the volume on each TV was up. Steve Pearce took D-Rob deep and, as Michael Kay kept saying, it was setting up the perfect moment for Derek Jeter. You can hear Michael Kay’s voice from down the hall. Every room had the game on. The doctors and nurses had the game on their phones.
Of course, we all know how this story ends for the Yankees. With a runner in scoring position after the Gardy bunt, Derek Jeter came up to the plate. It was, as Michael Kay said, a moment where “fantasy becomes reality”.
On the first pitch, the captain did what the captain always did. He took the ball the other way. The runner scored after Nick Markakis’ throw was bobbled at the plate. The entire hospital floor exploded. So many TVs and phones had it on at the same time and you could have sworn the Bronx was in this big suburban hospital in the middle of nowhere on the northern end of Long Island.
I jumped up. My parents jumped up. It was the kind of feeling I had as a kid watching this game. You expected Derek Jeter to be the hero and he was.
All those memories of Derek Jeter started rushing in as he busts up the line before triumphantly raising his fists in the air. The flip play came to mind. Becoming Mr. November came to mind. Just the overall way he carried himself for 20-years in this ruthless market and made poise and grace fashionable came to mind as well.
This moment was the first baseball moment I shared with my girlfriend. While she was working she sat with me and my family watching it. Here was a person who never even watched baseball before this sit and show homage to the Captain.
Fast forward a few years and now we’re watching entire seasons together. We’re also partial season ticket holders and we die when the Yankees die in the playoffs. (At some point we’ll feel like champions I’m sure.) On the night of Jeter’s last home game, though we had no idea, this sport was going to be as much a part of our lives as it is now.
Derek Jeter’s final chapter became my next chapter and our first chapter in this life where the Bronx is now our second home.
When I first started posting about the Yankees online, I found talking about this team was the kind of fun in a creative endeavor that I didn’t find in anything else. In my head, it all started with Derek Jeter walking it off against the Orioles. Right before I recorded George’s Box with JJ, I thought about that game and that night.
I told JJ on the podcast that I wasn’t a God Guy but I can’t help but feel like this ridiculous and random circumstance needed to happen. If I don’t have the Yankees I probably don’t have a solid creative outlet. I don’t have the ability to reach a lot of great people through Instagram, Twitter, and the Bronx Pinstripes. I don’t have the ability to live and die by a TV or in the Bronx. The ups and downs of baseball are entrenched in my soul and it just feels like it needed to happen.
There are times where I’m lucky to talk to somebody associated with the team and in my head, I’m losing my mind. It just feels like something like that shouldn’t happen. All I did was start some stupid Instagram and Twitter pages.
If there are holy deities to thank for all this, maybe I should thank the Baseball Gods. They seem to like me more than the other ones out there.