At the start of the 1996 season, I knew nothing about baseball. I was 9 years old.
My family comprised mostly Mets fans. I couldn’t fault my parents for this shortcoming, a symptom of theatrical folk who can’t help but root for the underdog. (The Mets also won the World Series—for the only time in my entire life, to date—just weeks after I was born. That kind of thing sticks with a parent.)
But I digress. Though basically ambivalent toward America’s alleged “favorite pastime,” I was also highly impressionable in the spring of ’96. So when I spotted the Yankees’ newly minted shortstop—a rookie whose name, Jeter, rung like a bell in my young ears—I took note. Not of his talent, but of a criminally dimpled smile and quiet confidence that, without logic or life experience, I knew was special.
That year, he helped lead the team to the World Series. (I helped convert my parents to Yankees fans, and they’ve never looked back.) For the first time in my life, I felt the teeth-clenching, heart-palpitating excitement that accompanies your team’s quest for victory. That feeling was instantly addictive, and marked the beginning of a lifelong love affair.
Then they kept winning. They took the championship in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and I entered full-fledged adolescence on a high of champions. In 7th grade, I proudly donned my Yankees cap to “Hat Day” at school and a bully challenged me to name five current Yankee players. I named 12 before he stopped me.
I didn’t know they were the glory days. We never do.
A lot happened in the next nine years. I grew up, for one. I learned that the Yankees don’t win the World Series every year. I went to a college in the Midwest where people would visibly recoil when I proclaimed my fandom, insisting that my beloved team was somehow a scam because it was rich. I was too hurt fight back. I never wanted to fight about the Yankees, just to be loyal to them.
By the start of the 2009 season, I knew a lot about baseball. I’d seen the Yankees’ proverbial best and worst of times, all the while honored to consume every nugget of history they generously doled out. The Captain made it easy. With his unshakable resolve, professionalism, and pride in the franchise’s storied legacy, he remained a role model not just for his teammates, but also for his fans.
Then in early October, I met a man. Amid a flurry of messages vetting one another for a potential blind date, one major question loomed: “Who is your favorite Yankee of all time?”
There was only one answer. We’ve been in love ever since.
A few weeks later, the Yankees won the World Series.
Five subpar seasons ensued, but Jeter—and our mutual love of him—never wavered. We watched him break his ankle in the 2012 ALCS, a twist of fate that likely cost us the championship, and ultimately kept him off the field for most of the next season. We watched him bid farewell to his Core Four, and with each one an emblem of our childhood faded. We watched him stay laser-focused in his final season, under a microscope of media eager for him to choke up, screw up, or give up.
They clearly don’t know who they’re dealing with.
As Jeter plays out the final few games of his historic career, it’s easy to be sad. It’s easy to consider this the final chapter closed on my childhood. It’s easy to reminisce, to cry, and to lament that all good things come to an end.
I traded in my 18-year-old cap this year for a fresh one with a small #2 medallion modestly pinned on the side, which I wear with a renewed sense of pride. There’s a lot left to my Yankees story, and I’ve got to keep my head in the game and my eye on the ball. The Captain would want it that way.