Sometime next Sunday afternoon, as the shadows cloak Fenway Park, future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees mainstay at shortstop for the last 20 years, will come to the plate for his final professional at bat.
When that happens, I hope for the sake of all who bleed Boston red that every last person in that ball park rise to their feet and strand the Yankee captain at home plate in a sea of admiration and respect.
As my contractor Rob – born and bred in Southie – once eloquently spoke for all Red Sox Nation: “I f-ing can’t stand Derek Jeter; but he’s an f-ing winner!”
No, Sox fans, not one among you will be asked to love Jeter.
We all understand his leadership and play have been the main reasons for the hated Yankees’ resurgence this past generation. And more than any other pop culture pastime, hating the pinstripes is what New England is all about.
But Jeter’s success also meant the Red Sox’s rise to championship prominence was inevitable. For that alone, we must salute him.
Twenty years ago, Jeter took the Yankees on his shoulders and they went on a run unheard of these days. Yes, he had a brilliant roster around him with the likes of Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and the inimitable Mariano Rivera.
But New York’s ascent also coincided with the rise of ESPN – based in Connecticut – from a strong regional cable outfit to a national, and later global power. Its boardroom, executive suite and newsroom were dominated by native New Englanders (read: die-hard Sox fans).
As a result, what followed during the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s was the creation, by ESPN, of Red Sox Nation as national mythology – the eternal worthy underdog, seemingly forever plagued by the Curse of the Bambino, looking to unseat the Evil Empire.
Not only did America buy the sappy branding, but the romance of it all led to the deep-pocket ownership of John Henry in 2002. Henry, flush with cash and liquid assets, then proceeded to turn the Red Sox into, well … the Yankees.
And while some of you are raising your eyebrows claiming this is all a stretch, in the end it all comes back to Jeter putting on a New York jersey and starting this big-money, big-stakes ball rolling.
More importantly, though, whatever these multi-billion dollar discussions have to say, we must never forget a more salient truth: New Englanders know what a mensch looks like, regardless of what city’s name graces his jersey.
In fact, if Jeter was just OK in talent, I’d still stand and give him a nod for the millions of his own fortune he’s poured into his Turn 2 Foundation, which combats child drug and alcohol use, and promotes education and leadership.
In my lifetime, before these gauche farewell tours, I was proud to see the Fenway denizens take matters of recognition into their own hands when it came to a hated Yankees captain.
It was 1986, when the Sox’s Wade Boggs and the Yanks’ Don Mattingly were locked in a race for the American League batting title. Boggs led Mattingly by a narrow but safe margin going into the season’s final series at the Fens. The Red Sox were playoff bound, while the Bombers were 10 games out.
Mattingly needed a Herculean performance to catch Boggs, who decided to rest a tweaked hamstring. The latter sat out the series, and on his .357 average, much to the chagrin of the media and fans on both sides. Everyone wanted to see a clash of giants and the hitting title earned mano a mano, but it wasn’t to be.
Mattingly had a surreal weekend.
While Boggs – never a Nation favorite, despite his gaudy stats – hid in the dugout, Mattingly went 8 for 19 with two doubles, two homers and four RBI. On the final day he needed to go 6 for 6 to win the batting crown, but ended up at “merely” 2 for 5 with a homer, a double, and three RBI.
On that telling September afternoon, Red Sox Nation took note, giving the Yankees captain two standing ovations.
And so next Sunday the shadows will fall on Fenway, and on Jeter’s storied career, in a year when both Sox and Yanks will be out of the postseason – playing for nothing but pride.
It’s only fitting, then, that he takes his final swing not in the Bronx, but in Boston.
It’s the place Derek Jeter has been loathed and reviled more than any other. It’s also where the Red Sox Nation faithful once again will rise and show they know an f-ing winner when they see one, even in pinstripes.