Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Career Night

The 85th MLB All-Star Game may as well have been called the Derek Jeter All-Star Game. And not because it was the Yankee Captain’s final appearance in the Midsummer Classic. Not because of the tributes from other players, the introductions, the ovations, or the the Jordan “Respect” commercial that aired right before the game. On Tuesday, Jeter’s final All-Star game captured the full essence of his career, a collection of highlights showcased in one magical night.

He was voted the starting shortstop, where he has held down one of the most physically demanding positions for the better part of two decades. Say what you want about advanced metrics that diminish his fielding, Jeter knows how to make plays in the field. And sure enough, he dove to stop a sharp grounder from the first batter of the game. His accurate throw just missed catching Andrew McCutchen’s race to first base, but it was still an impressive play that would have beaten all but the quickest leadoff hitters. He takes so much pride in being the Yankees shortstop, and is one of the best to play that position in the history of the game.

He was a leader in the clubhouse. The All-Star teams do not pick captains, but if they did, Jeter would have been the unanimous choice. He led off the batting order and addressed the AL team before the game. He spoke to the younger players about appreciating the moment and about the relationships he made within the game. This is exactly how Jeter has carried himself during his career, focusing on the process that has made him successful. He has always emphasized preparing for each game, making the most of every opportunity, and enjoying the sport. He is a mentor to young players and a fantastic teammate to all.

He was there for the fans. He smiled, signed autographs, and said thank you to so many who have cheered him on for so long. He saw signs bearing his name, heard cheers from all sections of the bleachers, and appreciated everyone who stood to salute another great moment in his legendary career. Jeter has always had a great connection to fans, both young and old, who proudly wear his number 2 on their shirts and wait in long lines for autographs and pictures.

He hit. Yes he hit; 2-for-2 at the plate, both times lacing line drives to right field with his characteristic inside-out swing that has led to so many opposite field singles, and more than a few doubles and home runs. It was a multi-hit game for Jeter, something he’s done 1000 times in his career. Think about that: Jeter has played in over 2500 games, and had multiple hits 1000 times. He scored the game’s first run, and has joined the top ten list for most all-time runs scored.

He showed us how he can raise his game to big moments. His .481 average in All-Star games speaks for itself; he’s been superb in the postseason too. Moreover, he made the plays during his career that turn good players into stars. From the clutch hits to the fielding gems, many of his highlights need only a one-word description: “The Flip,” “The Dive,” and “Mr. November.” In the bright lights of New York City, he stood tall, but didn’t let his shadow get in the way of winning World Series championships and building an incredible legacy.

Most importantly, he won. If you ask Jeter about his accomplishments, he might not mention his individual accolades, but he certainly would be proud of helping the Yankees win. When the final out ended Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Jeter jogged on the field, shaking hands with teammates and celebrating another win. You could see the joy on the face of a player who truly loves this game.

So the All-Star Game was Jeter’s Game. There were pinstripes; there were fans; there were hits; there was pride; and there was gratitude. There was even the idiot in the stands yelling “overrated” during his first at-bat (Yes, even the greatest players have their doubters). The monumental career of a once-in-a-generation player was displayed on one special night for all to see. For fans and admirers of the game, it was another chance to see all the brilliance that has epitomized Jeter’s career. We saw the same joy of the 21-year-old Jeter that captured our attention; the heart of a continual champion who succeeded on the sport’s biggest stage; and the wisdom of an ambassador who has transcended his play on the field. It was another moment to appreciate all Derek Jeter has contributed to baseball; everything was perfectly Jeter. Well, almost everything. It might have been the only time Jeter was happy to be taken off the field in a one-run game. It’s okay Derek, we understand. You can enjoy this one.  AN

A nation of believers

(And I’m not talking about the generation of teenage fans of a certain Canadian pop star)

For a few weeks, United States Soccer captured our hearts and engrossed our lives. We gathered around TV screens in bars, streamed the games on computers, and counted down the days to every kickoff. Soccer dominated the headlines on SportsCenter and numerous webpages. The game, and this team, had our attention; it’s safe to assume there was a marked downturn in productivity during the US games.

Admittedly, we did not have the best start out of the gate. First, Landon Donovan was left off the team after becoming the face of US soccer over the past decade. Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments about the US not being in serious contention to win the World Cup did nothing to improve his image. A tough draw with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana led to grim expectations for the US chances.

But like is the American way, we rallied. We cheered for team, we expected nothing but the best. We believed anyway, and excitement for the World Cup reached a fever pitch. For the first time, it seemed like an entire country was invested in our team. Social media saw fans proudly assert their allegiance on Facebook and soon #IBelieve was trending on Twitter. At the start of the US opener, millions of people were chanting “I Believe That We Will Win” (it doesn’t hurt that it’s such a catchy phrase).

Thirty seconds later, Clint Dempsey’s shot off the post found the back of the net for one of the fastest goals to start a team’s World Cup campaign. Suddenly, the expert opinions didn’t matter; all that mattered was the belief that we would win. And America embraced that belief. Klinsmann’s enthusiasm on the sideline was infectious. John Brooks became an overnight hero. A country’s heart beat with this team. While millions of fans watched, the US shocked many by advancing out of the group stage. And though their first game in the knockout round ended with a heartbreaking loss to Belgium, they fought to the very end with a goal in extra time, nearly a second one on a brilliantly executed free kick, and some unbelievable saves by Tim Howard. The journey ended abruptly, but the effort sent the message that US Soccer is striving toward the top tier of international soccer. I believe that we will get there.

Soccer is not as popular as other sports in the US, and after the World Cup interest in the sport will probably decline. It might take a while for the US to compete on the same level as Brazil, Germany, or the Netherlands. But it is not the American way to sit quietly in the background or patiently wait our turn. We’re going to fight to make it happen, and this country will be behind our team every step of the way. It takes a lot to win a World Cup: the right players, the right coach, and a bit of luck. Will we get there eventually? Yes. Maybe not in 4 years, maybe not in 8 years, but we will get there. Because an entire nation believes we will. I Believe That We Will Win. It may just be a cheer, but there’s no reason to believe that we can’t win.  AN