Derek Jeter salutes the crowd at Fenway Park during a pregame tribute that preceded his final major league contest. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
In the end, he was ready to cross the finish line.
Derek Jeter acknowledged that, after the nearly overwhelming emotion that accompanied his final Yankee Stadium contest on Thursday, he gave some consideration to never playing again, to sitting out the entirety of his team’s final three games of the year against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. But ultimately, he decided that while he wouldn’t play shortstop, he was ready to complete his career in Boston, with two at-bats in the final two games of the season.
“A lot of fans told me that they came a long way to see these last games and I felt it was right to play here,” said Jeter. “Don’t think I didn’t think about it, I thought about it.”
Sunday marked the final game of a disappointing season for the Red Sox, but the focus of the afternoon was primarily on Jeter as he played in the final game of his stellar 20-year career.
After an extravagant pre-game ceremony that included appearances from the likes of Carl Yastrzemski, Bruins legend Bobby Orr, former Celtic Paul Pierce and former Patriot star Troy Brown (among many others), Jeter served as the DH for two at-bats, ending his career on an infield single that drove in a run.
Jeter said that the plan was to get a couple of at-bats, regardless of the results. But he was glad to collect a hit in his final plate appearance, even if it was just an infield chopper.
“I would have loved to hit a home run like everyone else, but getting hits is not easy to do,” Jeter said. “My first at-bat I hit a line drive [to shortstop Jemile Weeks], unfortunately it was caught, but I feel a whole lot better getting a hit. I don’t care how far it goes, where it goes — I have no ego when it comes to hits. It’s either a hit or an out. I’ve gotten a lot of hits like that throughout my career and they all count the same.”
With one more hit this season, Jeter could have tied Ty Cobb‘s record of 19 consecutive 150-hit seasons. But the record wasn’t all that important to the 40-year-old.
“I wasn’t aware of [the record] until [manager] Joe [Girardi] told me this morning. But I never played this game for numbers, so why start now?” Jeter said. “With one more hit I would have tied Cobb’s record but I’m tied with Hank Aaron, that’s enough for me.”
After his single on Sunday, Jeter was lifted for a pinch runner. On his way off the field, he stopped at the mound to talk to Clay Buchholz, who will remain the last pitcher to ever face Jeter.
“When I ran past him, I said I know that this is kind of odd, but I just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed competing against you over the years and good luck to him,” Jeter said. “I had an opportunity to speak to everyone on the Boston team [in the pre-game ceremony] but obviously not him because he was warming up, so I just took a brief moment to tell him that.”
The pre-game festivities included the entire 2014 squad (sans Buchholz and catcher David Ross, who were in the bullpen) lining up to shake hands with the Yankees shortstop. Also on the agenda was the presentation of gifts (including a pinstriped base, scoreboard sign and a donation to Jeter’s foundation) and the inclusion of all three of the Red Sox’ living captains: Yastremzski, Jim Rice and Jason Varitek.
“[The ceremony] was unbelievable. I didn’t know anything about it or what was going to happen or who was going to be here,” Jeter said. “All the things they’ve done, it was hard to envision because this is a place where we’ve been an enemy for a long, long time and for them to flip the script this last time coming here it made me feel extremely proud and happy I was a part of this rivalry.”
Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of the day was the way that, for one game, the feelings of animosity that exist between Red Sox and Yankees fans seemed to take a backseat to appreciation for Jeter’s career. The crowd was filled with fans of both teams, and a “Der-ek Je-ter” chant broke out amongst the packed house multiple times.
“I’ve been a part of some chants here at Fenway Park, but I don’t know if any of them were good,” Jeter said.
Regardless of what team they were rooting for or which side of the rivalry fans were on, it seemed that, at least for one day, they were united in one feeling: respect for Jeter.
“I’ve been here for parts of 20 years, and whether you’re a Yankee fan or you’re not, if you want us to win or you want us to lose, you have good or bad memories, there’s a pretty good chance that I was a part of it,” Jeter said. “What I mean by that is I took a lot of pride in playing every game, I missed some but I took a lot of pride in doing my job and going out there every day and I think if you do that, people may respect you, they might not necessarily like you or root for your team, but they have respect for you.”
He returned the respect by playing on Sunday and by saluting Red Sox players and fans at Fenway Park with a final tip of the helmet as he jogged off the field one final time after his infield hit in the third. By the time he arrived in the dugout, he was ready for the finality of the moment.
“My emotions were so over the place on Thursday in New York, when I got here I was ready, I was ready for my career to be over with,” said Jeter. “I’m happy I had the opportunity to come and play here for a couple of games. I’m ready for this to be the end.”