The Tigers and fans offered the Yankees shortstop a fitting pre-game ceremony on his way to retiring from 20 years of playing the game of baseball.
DETROIT — One last time, one last series for fans in Michigan to bid farewell to the Michigan-native who was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1992. The Yankees generally don't receive a warm reception when they come to Detroit. Any series between the Yankees and the Tigers carries a playoff-like feel with it, and Derek Jeter isn't one who typically receives a glowing welcome when he steps to the plate.
For one series though, that has been different. Even though the feel between the two teams remains the same —playoff race or not — Tigers fans have set aside the team they cheered for, for one moment, and applauded the man who's set an example for others in the game for so many years.
Born in New Jersey but raised in Michigan, Jeter's ties run deeper than just the state he grew up in. Tiger Stadium was still standing when Jeter would go to games with his family. Memories were built and a friendly competition over who cheers for what team between Jeter and his father took off. A young Jeter grew up telling people he'd play for the Yankees one day, but he never forgot where his roots were.
"I grew up in Michigan," Jeter said. "I've always told people I'm from Michigan."
It seems fitting then, even sentimental, that the Tigers gifted Jeter with a pair of seats to Tiger Stadium. The same stadium that Jeter grew up attending games would eventually become one of many that he would play in briefly, even if it was against the Tigers. In addition to the seats, the Tigers presented Jeter with a framed set of three paintings and a check for $5,000 to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.
"I thought it was very nice that they involved my family and our leadership program from Kalamazoo," Jeter said after Wednesday's game. "So we appreciate it a lot. It's a class act from a class organization to include them. Our foundation means a lot to us and for them to include them, it means a lot to us."
Jeter has had a good career against the Tigers, but then that is standard against most teams he's faced. Jeter has become the standard for Major League Baseball on the conduct and performance of a major league player both on and off the field. It garners both respect and an overabundance of fanfair. The latter is also somewhat of a distraction in the middle a season.
Midst the numerous ceremonies and final farewells, there is still baseball going on and the Yankees aren't down and out of the race to October. The term "farewell tour" doesn't offer any endearment for Jeter, and even though his season has been dubbed as such, he'd prefer it if it wasn't that way.
"You say ‘tour' and it's just like you're just going around shaking hands and kissing babies, but we're still trying to win so I've just taken the approach that this is my last season," Jeter said.
As Jeter's final season comes to a close, like many teams, so do the Yankees' chances to make the playoffs. Saying goodbye is difficult for the shortstop, but doing it in the midst of a pennant race does offer some form of a useful distraction.
Still, as the end of September nears and the weather begins to cool, it becomes harder for Jeter to ignore the fact that whether the Yankees make the playoffs or not, his days of playing baseball are coming to an end.
"I've tried to take it day-to-day and I'll continue to do that, which I'm sure it'll become more and more difficult as the regular season winds down," Jeter said.
The Yankees will leave town and the Tigers will continue to fight for a spot in the playoffs. Jeter will finish his season and retire from the game of baseball, leaving his mark on more than a game. Torii Hunter may not be significantly younger than Jeter, but after the laughter about who's older, Hunter is quick to acknowledge he has always respected Jeter's character on and off the field.
"It's pretty cool," Hunter said. "Just to watch him play for all these years, he's definitely a true professional in baseball. I always say, if you want your kid to be like anybody in baseball, on and off the field, Derek Jeter's that guy."
Thursday the Tigers will play the Yankees for the last time in 2014, and Jeter will step to the plate to take his last at-bats in Comerica Park. Fans will stand and applaud in recognition once more, not only for the game he's played, but the way in which he's played it.
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