It was an emotional day for the Yankee captain, as Derek Jeter was gearing up for his last home opener as a player. The Yankee shortstop seemed a bit more emotional than usual in his pre-game press conference. Opening day is big for every player, most do not consider the season started till they play their first home game, putting a lot of stock into it, no matter the situation; the Yankee captain is no different. He gave his normal Jeter answers to the media, saying that Yankee fans are the best in the world, and he could not wait to get back in front of the home crowd. He deflected personal questions with his normal cunning ways, by making a joke, and following with a short, non-confrontational answer, but there was a certain tingle in his voice and his eyes looked heavier than normal. After pre-game warmups it was time for an emotional Derek Jeter to catch the first pitch on his last opening day game, and who better to make those throws, than with the other three parts of the core four.
Despite the weather, it was a perfect opening day. The rain held off, it was relatively warm, and in the middle of the day on a Monday, the stadium was at capacity before the game even started. The Orioles were introduced, then the Yankees came onto the field and Jeter was announced to riotous applause. He jogged out like usual, but he was already succumbing to the moment. Standing in line as his teammates came out, the cameras caught him breathing heavy, rocking back and forth, and not joking with his teammates, as is customary for the Yankee great. He looked nervous, and he had every right to be. Kelly O’Hara came out and sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem as Derek continued to rock back and forth, staring at his toes. On the last note of the National Anthem the Yankee shortstop dropped to his knees, composed himself, and shot back up, exhaling and mouthing, “OK,” to Bret Gardner as he prepared himself for the first pitch.
After a short break the YES Network gave a quick recap of the Yankee captain’s best moments with the team and then it was time. Before the game, choked up, Derek said he could not remember the last time all four members of the core four were on the field together, and that it will be very special that they get to do it again. Throwing out the pitches were Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ all time strike out leader and third winningest Yankee pitcher, and Mariano Rivera, the all time saves leader in MLB history. 72 different times Pettitte was the starting pitcher when Rivera got the save, which is an all time MLB record. The two of them came out to exalted cheers; the last time they were on the field together was for Rivera’s final home game last season. Catching the first pitches were Jorge Posada, the great Yankee catcher and one of Derek’s best friends, and the Yankee captain himself. Posada caught the ball from Pettitte and Derek caught the ball from Rivera. The throws, of course, were perfect as the core four were reunited with the first pitch, and they all shared an emotional embrace on the mound for Derek Jeter’s last opening day.
The Yankee captain is not only an ideal Yankee, but an ideal ambassador for the game of baseball. Even from his beginnings, Jeter was always the utmost professional. After the ’95 season, Yankee manager Joe Torre said that Jeter would start at shortstop for the ’96 season. Immediately, a young Jeter corrected him, saying what his manager meant was that he would be given the opportunity to win the starting job. That was always the kind of player and person he was. After that exchange, even Torre acknowledged Jeter said it better. In the press conference before the game, the Yankee captain told reporters he always felt that he had to work for his contract, even when it was guaranteed and he had a long-term deal. He felt the need to go out, day in and day out, and earn his pay check. That is what made him so great. Not only the production on the field, but the mentality and work ethic, and it all culminated for the Yankee shortstop on his final opening day.
The Yankee captain, on an overcast April afternoon in the Bronx, celebrated his last home opener with obvious butterflies, and total class. After the first pitch the core four took a quick photo, and almost as quick as the flash of the camera, the Yankee captain jogged away from his long time friends to prepare for the job at hand; helping his team get the win, no matter the cost. The last bit of emotion was during the top of the first inning as the bleacher creatures, doing their customary roll call, got to the shortstop position, and he acknowledged the crowd with a heavy heart. Appearing together, for the last time ever, it was fitting that the pitchers of the core four made the throws on opening day, with an emotional first pitch to send off one of the greatest of all time, Derek Jeter.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich