I hate the New York Yankees. All right-thinking Americans do.
That said, it’s hard not to have respect (if not grudgingly) for the captain, Derek Jeter.
Jeter is enjoying his final professional season and, as tradition dictates for a player who is an automatic Hall of Fame inductee, he is being celebrated at every ballpark he visits for his final game there.
On Wednesday, the celebration was at the ballpark in Arlington as Jeter faced the Texas Rangers for the last time.
During the pre-game ceremonies a video played on the outfield scoreboard focusing on former President (and former Rangers owner) George W. Bush’s inspirational first pitch at game 3 of the 2001 World Series in New York just weeks after 9/11.
Then Bush surprised Jeter, and the cheering fans in Arlington, by emerging from the Rangers’ dugout with an autographed, framed photo of the two of them from that historic night.
After the game, Jeter gave his reaction to the New York Daily News:
“It’s an experience. That’s a gift within itself. Not too many people can say they’ve had the president come out and honor them in a ceremony. It meant a lot to me. I had heard he was coming to the stadium, but I didn’t know he was going on the field. That’s a pretty special feeling when you have a president come out and give you something to honor you.
That’s definitely a memory I’ll have for a long time. I’ll be able to brag to a lot of different people.”
The 2001 game (and the president’s pitch) had enormous historical and emotional significance because it was the first home game of the series for New York and was just weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Security concerns were enormous for the game and many wondered about the wisdom of the President of the United States raising the stakes of the high-profile event even higher by appearing in such an audacious way. When he strode to the mound, alone and in command, and raised his thumb in the air to the screaming fans it was as if he was thumbing his nose at America’s enemies.
But what everyone will remember about that moment was the pitch. A perfect pitch. From the mound.
What many people don’t know is how Jeter had a hand in influencing that moment.
Just moments before Bush took the field that October night, the captain came up to the Commander-In-Chief and gave him a few pointers. After Bush told Jeter that he planned to throw the pitch from the base of the mound Jeter said, “You better throw it from the mound or else you’re going to get booed, this is Yankee Stadium.”
Bush took the advice and assured Jeter he’d throw from the mound. As the legendary shortstop began to walk away and prepare for his game, he looked over his shoulder and said, “Don’t bounce it, they’ll boo you.”
He didn’t bounce it. They didn’t boo. And the fans, the nation, and free people everywhere saw a leader stand up to terror with a resolute jaw and symbolic gesture that embodied the American spirit.
And Jeter will always be a part of that.
Makes me wish I didn’t hate the Yankees … a little.