Derek Jeter reflects on his final home opener
"I think its special, your home opener. You do it a number of time but you still always look forward to it," manager Joe Girardi said Monday morning.
Perhaps no one was looking more forward to it than Derek Jeter, who got to share his final home opener with not only his teammates, and not only the Yankees fans, but also the rest of the "Core Four," who came back to be part of the ceremonial first pitches.
When Jeter squatted next to Jorge Posada to catch ceremonial pitches from Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, respectively, it was the first time in at least a year - since Posada visited spring training as a guest instructor in 2013, Jeter guessed - that all four had been together on a baseball field at the same time, and it was a moment Jeter relished.
"Those guys have been like brothers to me, and I think it was a special moment, especially for a lot of fans that grew up watching all four of us play," The Captain said. "It was a fun day, right from the start with them here throwing out the first pitch. I thought it was a great day."
Once that happened, though, it was time to play, and as expected, Jeter got an electric response; his introduction got the loudest set of cheers from the crowd, his roll call seemed a little louder than usual, and in his first at-bat, he got a nice standing ovation - one he joked affected him so much it caused him to strike out.
"I'm really not trying to think about these things, I'm trying to think about what my job is - but the fans have been good to me my entire career, so you can't help but notice it," he said. "The fans were energetic as they usually are, which makes it fun for us as players."
Jeter got some good advice from his parents, Dr. Charles and Dorothy Jeter on how to handle the day, recalling that "my dad said to have fun and my mom said to get a couple hits." He may have only gotten halfway to his mom's request by going 1-for-4, but that one hit, a fifth-inning double, certainly brought a very un-Jeter-like moment: a momentary lapse of hustle that led to a "hustle double."
"When I hit it I thought it was a homer, because I hit it pretty good, but the wind played some tricks on it," he said. "Then I thought it was going foul, and next thing I know it ricocheted to the left fielder, so I had to pick up the pace a little bit. There were some guys laughing, until a couple of them hit some balls and the wind got them too."
In true Jeter fashion, The Captain said "you rarely see that and probably won't ever see it again," but still was able to have fun with the moment.
"Well, I decided to test it and make sure my legs were still good, so I waited and then picked up speed when I needed to, almost like an audition," he laughed. "Sometimes you get caught up, I thought it was a home run and I hit it well enough…but I was safe. It'd be a lot more embarrassing if I was out."
All in all, though, the Yankees won, and as much as he won't reflect on the finality of the season just yet, Jeter admitted that it felt good to be home one more time.
"I missed it last year, and sometimes you don't realize it until you're back out there, but home openers are special at Yankee Stadium," he said, "and I felt good, which is why I was so excited. It's been such a long time since I've been out there feeling good. I don't want to jinx anything, but it was a fun time and it felt really good. It felt like maybe my first home opener. It was a fun time for me."
Still, in a season that will be full of farewells and the gifts that go along with them, don't count on Jeter taking any mementos from his last first - because as he joked, he might not have even had the chance.
"I hadn't thought about it until just now…but I think Steiner Sports takes all that stuff anyway."
Even in reflection, Derek Jeter is still as calm, cool, and collected as always.