Monday, September 29, 2014

Let's Honor Derek Jeter by Not Deifying Him

There was no one but a German shepherd in the dugout of the best baseball game I saw this summer.

All nine of the team’s players – dressed in full uniforms with Seadogs blazoned across their chests – were out on the field, and the dog belonged to the second baseman.

Their pitcher was tired. He had just walked the leadoff batter – and a player came charging out of the Sharks’ dugout to serve as third-base coach with a runner on first.

The pitcher turned to the shortstop, said something vaguely obscene, and all the infielders trotted to the mound and conferred for a few seconds. When they dispersed, the shortstop was the pitcher and pitcher was the shortstop. One of two black-suited umpires said, “Play ball,” in a disarmingly young voice, and on the first pitch the batter launched a pop foul that landed at my feet.

I picked up the scuffed ball. “Hey, a little help here!” the catcher called out from the other side of the chain-link backstop. So I threw the ball back onto the field.

Baseballs, after all, cost $14.99 each at Dick’s Sporting Goods – and the players here pay all the equipment costs. They aren’t millionaires, and the only people watching them besides me were a few family members and girlfriends. This was, after all, just a bar league game in Chatham, a few weeks after the Cape Cod Baseball League had ended play.

I had seen the ballpark’s shining lights in the distance on an ordinary Thursday night and had wandered over to watch 20 grown men dress up and play nine innings… just for the love of the game.

As this year’s MLB playoffs begin without Derek Jeter, I’m conflicted – perhaps as conflicted as the former Yankee shortstop himself – by his deification.

I’m a lifelong Yankee fan, and I’ve admired his play and demeanor for years. I don’t pretend to know Derek Jeter, the man. But I can promise you this: he is not, as seemingly every sports reporter or announcer has claimed, “larger than life.”

Life and baseball are larger than Derek Jeter.

If we really want to honor his legacy, maybe we can all try this week to give someone else just a little help here.

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