Derek’s greatest hitBy
The summer before I started college in the fall of 2001 was one of travel. I went to Europe as a high school graduation present with my parents and sister and then took a road trip with a good friend of mine to 12 baseball stadiums in ten cities. Everywhere I went, I took a backpack into the Stadium and saw few security measures, if any at all.
Everything changed during my second week of classes when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. I woke up to a bewildering voice mail from my dad telling me that a plane had struck the Twin Towers, and then I went to class. By the time I was out, the two buildings in Lower Manhattan had collapsed, and life as we knew it was over.
That fall is a bit of a blur in my mind. As I adjusted to life at college away from the city and my parents, I found myself on the road. I went home the weekend after Sept. 11 to be in the city and around family. I traveled up to Boston in October to visit some friends (and watch the Yanks run over the Mariners in the ALCS) and went back to school for the World Series after a stop in New York. Through it all was baseball.
When play resumed after a week off in September, the Yankees continued their march to what we hoped would be a fourth straight World Series title. After two quick losses to the A’s in New York, it seemed as though the aging Yankee had finally met their Billy Beane-inspired match. But then Derek Jeter saved the day.
That Play — the one that spawned my favorite sports column of all time — is how the baseball world knows Derek Jeter best. With Jeremy Giambi lumbering around the bases and Shane Spencer digging a ball out of the corner, Derek Jeter came out of nowhere to save an errant throw and shuttle-pass the ball of Jorge Posada. Giambi didn’t slide; Posada tagged the runner; and the Yankees’ season was saved.
Jeter will soon hold the Yankees’ all-time hits record. He’ll become the first New York Yankee to top 3000 hits. Yet, his defining image will always be The Play to save the season in 2001. His baseball instincts are just tremendous.
After that ALDS, the Yankees tore through the winningest team in AL history and drew a match-up against the Diamondbacks. New York City and I continued to heal. The city came together for a celebration of the Yankees, and the Yanks seemed predestined to win the World Series. I went to game three that year with my sister, and while the Yankees won, it was the least climactic of the games played in the Bronx.
The next night, I was watching the game with some first-year friends and a few upperclassmen, and despair settled among the room when the 9th inning rolled around. The Yankees were just three outs away from going down 3 games to one against a Diamondbacks’ team led by two fierce pitchers. But Tino Martinez delivered a huge two-run home run into the night, and the Yankees were alive.
In the tenth, the clock at Yankee Stadium struck midnight, and for the first time in baseball history, the World Series reached into November. It was a cool, crisp night, and Byung-Hyun Kim quickly got two quick outs. Then, Derek Jeter came up. Jeter worked the count full and then some. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Jeter swung and the ball soared into the night. Reggie Sanders tried to track it down, but the Stadium erupted as Jeter raised his fist in celebration. The Yankees had won an improbable game, and we were jumping for joy and disbelief.
Of course, the Yankees were do it again the next night before faltering in the desert. As Luis Gonzalez’s single fell past a misplaced infield, New York’s World Series hopes died. To me though, that home run — Derek’s only RBI of the 2001 World Series — was Derek’s greatest hit. It brought the city unimaginable joy at a time when it needed it the most, and as I settled into college and Derek’s ball into the right field stands, I knew everything would be okay.