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The saying goes, in every baseball fans’ life, two games are the most important: the first one you go to as a kid, and the first one in which you bring your own kid. But when the game involves Derek Jeter once again rewriting the rules of what’s possible, it becomes more than a great day of baseball. It is, without exaggeration, a day you’ll remember all your life.
On Saturday, I was lucky to be at Yankee Stadium with my Dad and daughter. My Dad brought me to my first game; I was bringing my daughter to her first game. She is by birth a fourth generation Yankee fan; there was never a doubt what NY logo she’d be wearing. But here’s what great about the Yankees: they pay back generations of fans with days like Saturday. They have an ability to play games that become classic, to create moments that become legend. I thought I was lucky to be at the Stadium for the “Jeffrey Maier” game in 1996 and the “Mr. November” game in 2001. Not surprisingly, both of these games turned on the heroics of Derek Jeter. But what Jeter did on Saturday I will never see again.
For the five people who haven’t heard, Jeter topped Ruth’s called shot, matched Larsen’s perfect game and made all of us at the Stadium the luckiest people on the face of the earth. Jeter, needing two hits to become the first Yankee ever to get 3000 for a career, went 5-for-5, including a home run to get to 3000. First inning, hit 2999, a single. The house was rocking. Third inning, hit 3000, a blast into the left field stands. His first home run at home in a year. Crazy. The place was louder than any World Series game. Third at-bat, double to left. Fans start screaming “cycle!” Next at-bat, another single. It begins to get laughable. Followed by another single which knocked in the game winning run. Five at-bats, five hits, a home run, the game winning RBI. One of the most incredible chapters for a franchise that has a habit of writing stories like this.
It was the kind of day you want to remember for a long time. You listen to the post-game show the whole drive home, you watch the rerun on YES, you save the ticket stub, you wonder what you would have done if lucky enough to catch the home run.
And yet, the funny thing about all of this is that I’m not even a huge Jeter fan. I mean, it’s impossible not to root for the guy– it’s not by accident he’s at the center of every great play. He says all the right things. Does all the right things. He has survived New York. And he’s got Minka. So what’s not to like? I think I just like my heroes a bit more… flawed. In the 90’s, I rooted for Paul O’Neill more than anyone, someone who seemed like he had to try so much harder, someone in a constant state of meltdown, screaming at himself after every out, working on his swing out in right field, beating up watercoolers. Jeter, on the other hand, makes it look easy. His emotions are kept deep inside. He effortlessly handles the pressure of being Captain. He called the former manager “Mr. Torre.” But there is one thing about Jeter I love above all, and that’s his focus on winning. And I don’t mean that in an obnoxious way, implying the Yankees win more than anyone. To Jeter, winning means team success, on standings above individual stats, on championships above all. Winning means that when the pressure is on, you don’t just deliver. You do something memorable. Even after Saturday’s performance, he said, “It would have been really, really awkward to be out there doing interviews and waving to the crowd if we would have lost.” There’s not another guy in baseball that could say that, and say it believably. And he’s right: winning matters. Regardless of the sport we play, and certainly business is a sport, winning is all that matters.
On Saturday, Derek Jeter showed 50,000 fans what winning looks like. A certain two-year old fan got a new hat, one way too big for her head, but one she refused to take off all weekend. A Yankee player creates a Yankee legend that fuels another generation of Yankee fans. Indeed, the second most important baseball game I’ve ever seen.