- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The ball went over the fence.
And then ... madness. The Yankees' players rushed out of the dugout. The Rays' infielders clapped slightly. A 23-year-old man named Christian Lopez, who was given his ticket by his girlfriend, fell on the ball in the leftfield bleachers. The sound in the new stadium was as loud as it was in the old stadium when Jeter hit the home run in the 2001 World Series just after the clock struck midnight on Nov. 1. Jeter rounded the bases, and when he touched home plate, he ran into a bear hug from Jorge Posada. Incredible. Ridiculous.
There were details to sort out at that point. Jeter had become the second man to get his 3,000th hit on a homer; the other was Wade Boggs, who was famous much of his career for not hitting homers. Jeter became the 14th man to get his first 3,000 hits for one team, and the first to do it for the Yankees. And so on.
There were plenty of "and so ons" after that. The next time up, Jeter ripped a double to left. And so on. The time after that, he used an inside-out swing to punch a line drive to rightfield, the sort of line drive Jeter has hit so often that it should be named for him. And so on. In the eighth inning, with the go-ahead run on third and the Rays infield drawn in, Jeter hit a ground ball single, his fifth hit of the day. It was the second 5-for-5 game of his career, the first in more than a decade.
And so on.... Mariano Rivera closed the door with a perfect ninth inning, which Jeter would tell you is the way he would have dreamed for his 3,000-hit game to end. The crowd stayed for a long time to scream. Jeter stayed around to acknowledge them. Sinatra sang New York, New York. Christian Lopez, the fan who caught the historic ball, gave it to Jeter for free because, he said, "it's his accomplishment." "Movie-ready," Yankees manager Joe Girardi would call it. And, yes, at some point it did feel like Robert Redford might just show up to throw a baseball with his son.
But perhaps the most striking part of all was how happy Derek Jeter was to have it over. He has worked hard through the years to keep many of his feelings private. He has worked hard through the years to say the right things, to do the right things, to exemplify grace and class and confidence and humility, all at the same time. He is a proud athlete, and he has been growing old in front of America, and that cannot be easy.
On Saturday he played young again. He ripped the ball again. He got his 3,000th hit on a home run. His 3,003rd scored the winning run. And when the game ended, he talked mostly about relief. It's over, he said. We can move on now, he said. We will move on, of course. The All-Star Game was this week. The NFL lockout might come to an end. Rory McIlroy goes to the British Open. Jeter goes back to his battle with the years. It all moves very quickly. Saturday was a nice afternoon to stop for a moment. Why celebrate 3,000 hits? Hey, why not?