An Open Letter To Derek Jeter

Dear Mr. Jeter,

I’ve wanted to write this to you since I was nine years old. One night in May of 1999, after my fourth grade homework had been completed, I took out a fresh page of looseleaf paper and wrote. I do not remember the letter verbatum, but the words “hero”, “favorite”, and other superlatives were probably included. The next morning, I read it again, and for the first of many times I told myself that what I had written was rubbish. I never mailed it. I told myself that I would revise it. It ultimately wasted away in the back of a drawer for a few years before being found and tossed out.

Until last weekend, I forgot that I had even attempted writing to you. Then I realised that I had a chance to thank you for everything you’ve given me, New York City, and Yankee fans for the past 20 years.

Thank you for being the first baseball player I knew about. I can’t remember the first time I heard your name, but I already had by the time I went to my second Yankees game in September of 1996. Like last night, you drove in the game-winning run, a single up the middle to beat the Red Sox.

Thank you for giving me my first magical sports moment a few later. I will always remember being in my grandparents’ den when Jeffrey Maier gave you that extra hand to allow you to circle the bases. You won it all that year. It was the first of many times. I remember falling asleep before your team took the lead against Atlanta in 1996, and waking up the following Sunday morning to realise that the Yankees were champions.

Thank you for inspiring me. I started following the Yankees on an everyday basis when I was 8. It was April of 1998. You and your teammates were statistically the best baseball team of the past 25 years, arguably in the history of the sport. Even then, I knew that a life of covering sports was a possibility, and ultimately I chose that over music, astronomy, teaching, cooking, or whatever other phase I went through.

Thank you for never losing it. In an age where athletes face more criticism than they ever did, you perservered. In an age where athletes are more selfish than they ever have been, you have always been kind, respectful, and a role model.

Thank you for doing your job every day, as often as your health would allow you. Until your ankle woes last season, the only occassion you missed a significant portion of the season was in 2003, injured by a collision with a catcher who was trying to play the game with as much intensity as you.

Thank you for doing what is right instead of what is easy. PED use in baseball marred the sport in your time. It was laughable to think that you had used. Your upbringing taught you that there is no shortcut to success. While your rivals, teammates, and peers in other sports have been associated with drug scandals, the name Derek Jeter remains unsullied.

Thank you for winning. And not for just the five championships. Thank you for going to the playoffs in all but two (full) seasons. Thank you for never having a losing record – the only player in MLB history to play for 20 seasons and accomplish that. Thank you for having as many championships as games played when your team was mathematically eliminated.

Thank you for losing, and teaching me how to handle it the right way. I was spoiled by your first five seasons, and the next nine taught me how to accept that things don’t always go the way you wanted them to go. It would have been Hollywood if the Yankees could have won a championship six weeks after the September 11th attacks with people who had hated New York for their entire lives cheering for them. When everything started to go your way that series, it looked like that was the case. Sadly, it was not. What is “meant to be”, isn’t always.

Thank you for making me try and re-create your plays in the yard in front of my house. The backhand-jump-turn-and-throw, The Flip, The Dive, “Mr. November”. Thank you for giving me moments after I had grown up that still make me want to go out in front of my house and recreate. My favorite moments of you aren’t those, but of two other times.

Your double to start the 8th inning rally against Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox in 2003 is the most understated play of your career. Jason Giambi had homered twice, but no one else had managed much against their ace. Your hit snapped them out of it and allowed my favorite baseball game to end the way it did.

Your home run against the Twins in Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS. I had been all too familiar with early exits from the playoffs, and after Minnesota jumped out to an early lead, I was afraid that 2009 would be the same. Your home run in the bottom of that inning restored order, and the rest is history.

Thank you for being the big brother that I never had. For teaching me not to be annoyed by what people say, or to at least not show it. For teaching me how to handle my critics. For teaching me to argue but not be disruptive. You have never been ejected from a game. Not when Armando Benitez hit Tino Martinez, not when Jorge Posada scruffled with long-forgotten Bobby Smith (of the Devil Rays), not when all hell broke loose against the Red Sox in October 2003, and then when it did again the following July. Thank you for teaching me to thank those who have helped me before I take credit for myself. Thank you for doing it all with dignity.

Thank you for one evening in Tampa when I was 12. It was a cool March evening in 2002 when I stood in the tunnel with my dad underneath Legends Field (it will always be that to me, regardless of its current name). We waited for minutes talking with a bunch of Yankees, including Roger Clemens, Joe Torre, and Jason Giambi. Pictures were taken of me alongside my childhood idols, but still I waited for you to come out. It took a tremendous amount of courage for me, a scrawny 4 foot something teenager, to go up to my hero and ask him for a picture and a couple of autographs, but I did. You put your arm around a kid with a heart condition who had a wish to meet his hero, smiled as the flashbulb burst, and did it with the class that we’ve all been acustomed to see. Thank you for a memory that I’ll never forget. Thank you for my childhood. At last, I am an adult.

Your fan for life,

Justin Cirillo

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2 Responses to An Open Letter To Derek Jeter

  1. Pingback: 2014 MLB Awards | Justin Cirillo's Sports Blog

  2. Pingback: Au Revoir, A-Rod | Justin Cirillo's Sports Blog

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