Derek Jeter reveals 'most special' part of his career
Of the hundreds of ballplayers to ever suit up in the New York Yankees pinstripes, none did so more often than Derek Jeter, who on Sunday night received the highest honor bestowed by baseball's most successful franchise.
In front of a sold-out crowd in the Bronx, Jeter's iconic No. 2 jersey was officially retired by the only organization he ever played for, or ever wanted to play for.
Sunday marked the 22nd time a Yankee's number was retired, but Jeter's one-of-a-kind career made the evening's festivities that much more special for everyone in attendance.
"What do you say?" Jeter asked rhetorically after the ceremony. "I don't really know what you can say, besides 'thank you.'"
Growing up in the Midwest, Jeter was a fan of the Yankees and held onto a childhood dream of one day playing shortstop in the Big Apple. Little did he realize then what kind of journey he would soon find himself on, with the final destination set for immortality in Monument Park.
"This is one of those special days that you'll never forget," Jeter said of the big night. "You have this dream of playing baseball and playing for the Yankees. Having your number retired is never part of it, so this is all icing on the cake for me."
In 20 seasons, all with the Yankees, Jeter amassed a number of seemingly unbreakable franchise records, including most games played, at-bats, hits, doubles, stolen bases and leadoff home runs - and those are just his regular season records. (He also holds MLB's all-time postseason records in games played, at-bats, hits, doubles, triples and runs scored, for good measure).
So many legends of the game have made their mark in a Yankees uniform, but none were more inextricably linked to the franchise than No. 2.
After having played his final game in 2014, itself one of the most memorable moments of Jeter's eventual Hall of Fame career, The Captain said he's had time to reflect on his career in the majors, and which part of it stands out as the most significant.
"The thing that's most special I think is playing with one organization your entire career, because quite frankly I don't think that's going to happen too often anymore in this day and age of free agency and people switching teams and teams trying to stay younger," Jeter said.
"That's the thing that I appreciated the most because it was the only place I've ever wanted to play. When you're in it, you don't really think about it too much, because you're just coming to work to do your job, but after I've retired I've realized how special that is."
In attendance Sunday night to usher Jeter into the hallowed grounds of Monument Park were several of his teammates, including the other three-fourths of the Core Four group, as well as honorary member Bernie Williams, who broke into the league in 1991, just before Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
All five of them now have their numbers retired by the Yankees.
"Having five people from that group is kind of hard to believe," Jeter remarked when asked about his memories playing with those mid-90's Yankees teams who dominated the decade and won four championships in five years.
"I never took it for granted when we won," Jeter said, "but we never looked back at anything that we had accomplished, it was always 'what's next?'"
What was the key to that group's unparalleled success for so many years together?
"We all have the same mindsets," Jeter said. "We went out there day in and day out trying to win, trying to do anything we could to help the team, and more importantly we tried to keep our jobs. Looking back it was a special time, it was a special period in Yankee history, and the fans never forget that. That's what makes this organization so special."
No matter who was carrying the load on any given night, only one singular voice pierced through to lead those Yankees teams. It was Derek Jeter's. His leadership, consistency and preparedness eventually resulted in him being named team captain, which proved to be a turning-point in Jeter's career.
"When 'The Boss' (George Steinbrenner) called and said he wanted to name me captain, it was probably one of the best days of my baseball career, and I took that role seriously," Jeter said. "I tried to set the tone for the rest of the guys and I tried to do it in a professional manner... You had to take the approach that every single day, whether it's the season or the offseason, you're representing the New York Yankees, and I took that seriously."
Few players played the game with the pride and focus that Jeter brought to the clubhouse each and every day, and for that, he will go down as an all-time Yankee great.
Jeter's Hall of Fame eligibility is just around the corner, but for now, he'll be satisfied soaking in all the love and support from Yankees fans who idolized him for more than two decades.
"It doesn't get any more special than having your number retired by this organization," Jeter said.