Jeter The Hero: Yankee Shortstop Plays His Final Home Game Tonight New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will play his last nine innings at Yankee Stadium tonight after 20 years with the team. A look back at his incredible career and the legacy he will leave behind.
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Jeter The Hero: Yankee Shortstop Plays His Final Home Game Tonight

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Jeter The Hero: Yankee Shortstop Plays His Final Home Game Tonight

Jeter The Hero: Yankee Shortstop Plays His Final Home Game Tonight

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Over the last 20 years, New York Yankees fans have come to rely on one sure thing - the sight of Derek Jeter patrolling the gap between second and third base. Tonight, the famous shortstop, who is also captain of the team, plays his last nine innings at Yankee Stadium. Jim O'Grady of member station WNYC has more on why Yankee fans are having such a tough time letting Jeter go.

JIM O'GRADY, BYLINE: There are three major life events for an acolyte of Jeter. The first comes at 2 years old, when you're wearing pinstripe pajamas and watching a Yankee game on TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Who is that?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Derek Jeter. Derek Jeter.

O'GRADY: Then you grow up. And before you know it, you're in the bleachers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Derek Jeter. Derek Jeter.

UNIDENTIFIED FANS: (Chanting) Derek Jeter. Derek Jeter.

O'GRADY: Along the way, there are moments of mature reflection.

Is he a hero?

SOPHIE HINDS: Yes, he is.

O'GRADY: That's 12-year-old Sophie Hinds.

What makes him a hero? He's just a baseball player.

SOPHIE: Well, he's kind of legendary in a way because he's made like 3,000 hits. And it's also his personality because he's always so happy, and he's so nice. And he's, like, such a good team player. And he's been around for so long, and I'm going to really miss him. And he's a hero.

O'GRADY: That's the problem with Jeter's retirement. It brings the gloomy news that he won't always be with us. Jane Leavy, an author who's written biographies of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle, says the end was foreshadowed as far back as 2003, when Jeter landed on the disabled list after dislocating his shoulder in a collision at third base.

JANE LEAVY: That was so shocking 'cause Derek Jeter was never gone. And I think that will be the thing next year that will be so shocking is, oh, my God. He's not there.

O'GRADY: Jeter has been preparing the faithful. He announced his retirement seven months ahead of time. And in a recent Gatorade commercial, he enacts a fantasy version of a last ride to the stadium, where to the strains of Frank Sinatra, he tells his chauffeur to stop the car on the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATORADE COMMERCIAL)

DEREK JETER: You know what? I'll walk from here.

O'GRADY: The black and white ad shows him mingling with the people of the Bronx, healing the sick, raising the dead - not really, but that's the feeling you get while watching fans approach and quaver in his presence. Baseball writer Leavy says do not underestimate Jeter's mastery of his own Olympian image.

LEAVY: That he's managed to control the conversation about him is as much of an accomplishment in this, you know, media-saturated world as anything he's ever done on a baseball field.

O'GRADY: On the baseball field he's shown a rare athletic quality.

LEAVY: Maybe he - it comes from God, to seize the moment, the clutch hit, the home run, when it's absolutely necessary, the diving catch in the stands, the crazy play in Oakland.

O'GRADY: The crazy play in Oakland is famous. New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey repeats a question a lot of fans had after watching it in 2001.

GEORGE VECSEY: Did I just see that, or, you know - what's he doing there?

O'GRADY: It's late in a crucial playoff game, and the Yankees have one run lead. Jeremy Giambi of the Oakland A's is on first with two outs. An A's hitter cracks a double down the right-field line and Giambi tries to reach him from first base. Vecsey recalls what happens next.

VECSEY: Single to right, runner coming around third - here comes Giambi. He's going to score. Oh...

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Derek Jeter with one of the most unbelievable plays you will ever see by a shortstop.

O'GRADY: It's almost dreamlike. Jeter materializes far from his normal shortstop position in first base foul territory.

VECSEY: What's he doing there?

O'GRADY: In one motion, he grabs a bad throw from the outfield, twists his body on the run and flips the ball to the catcher, who tags out Giambi, saving the game.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: What an unbelievable play Jeter.

O'GRADY: Grizzled baseball guys say they've never seen anything like it before or since. But here's the thing; for all the plays singularity, the Yankees had practiced it in spring training. In other words, Jeter was doing what he was supposed to be doing. And if Jeter's career has shown anything, it's that utter reliability has a strangeness about it. And it has beauty. And among those who witness it, it can breed devotion. And when Jeter retires, that's what they'll miss. For NPR News, I'm Jim O'Grady.

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