I’m watching Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium, and depending on his wishes regarding the season’s last series at Boston, perhaps his last game ever. In the second inning during tonight’s game against the Orioles, Yankee pitching great Andy Pettitte recalled their days in Low A ball in Greensboro. I got to share a few of those days.
I’m from Greensboro and grew up watching the Greensboro Generals, later the Hornets, and even later the unfortunately named Bats (they now are the Grasshoppers, so maybe Bats isn’t so bad).
Don Mattingly, who in Greensboro in 1981 patrolled right field, became my first diamond hero. In 1990, I got to live out a dream by covering the team for the Greensboro News & Record and, on Sundays, to serve both the home team and visiting team as a chaplain with Baseball Chapel. In both capacities in 1992, I got to know an 18-year-old Derek Jeter, fresh from Kalamazoo, Mich., a contagiously upbeat Andy Pettitte, and a two-pitch stick figure of a starting pitcher, Mariano Rivera. Big Mo, then not-so-big Mo, spoke zero English at the time, which in inspired me to recruit my friend Carlos Montoya to come out to War Memorial Stadium on Sundays to translate our brief chapel messages principally for Mo, but also for the many Hispanic players on both teams.
For Derek’s first professional game in 1992, I organized an outing for our newsroom. So after a picnic along the third base line before the game, we settled in to see the Yankees’ No. 1 draft pick, a bonus baby shortstop who they said had a slick glove going to his right. Young Jeter didn’t disappoint, hitting a bomb over the left centerfield wall in his first game. Pettitte mentioned this in his cameo at Yankee Stadium tonight.
My memories of Derek are a bit hazy, but consistent. I recall him sitting on the trainer’s table on many a morning, before any other players had shown up at the ballpark, just to have someone to talk to, just to be around the game as much as possible. I remember him never missing chapel, always filing in with the guys. Always with a smile on his face. Just a ball of energy on and off the field.
And I remember his “Yes, sir” answers to my questions as a reporter. He was a perfectly dreadful quote, though I could tell behind those steely hazel green eyes there was a keen intellect at work. Even at 18 there were two Derek Jeters: the respectful, polite, thoughtful Jeter in front of the press, and the witty prankster just happy to hang out with the guys in the lockerroom.
So for three of the Core Four, (Jorge Posada never played in Greensboro), I’m so thankful to have a few memories of my own, a few to polish to a new shine tonight during Jeet’s last magic to the PA music of Bob Sheppard’s mellifluous voice: “Numbah 2, Derek Jeetuh . . . Numbah 2.”
Though I’m older than Derek Sanderson Jeter, he’s been a role model for me in my professional life in terms of consistency, dependability, work ethic and team-first approach. And after baseball? He’s going into publishing! Welcome to the team, Derek!!