On Wednesday night, the Houston Astros gave Derek Jeter, during his final visit to Minute Maid Park (and it's worth noting he's only played there once before), a set of golf clubs, a cowboy hat and a pair of boots. Jeter even took a second to step out of the batter's box to wave to the crowd, something he's sort of famous for not doing. So know it's going to be a year of this: It's another farewell tour.
Everyone's ready for Jeter's farewell tour, from YES to ESPN to Bud Selig himself. Unlike Mariano Rivera's last year, this one could potentially get awkward because, well, Derek Jeter has had only 13 hits since collapsing during the 2012 ALCS. Isn't that crazy? Since that moment -- and heavens, look at that photo again -- Derek Jeter has only gotten a base hit 13 times.
When Rivera was paraded around the field before every road game -- an exercise he admitted had him completely exhausted by the end of the year -- he not only was still one of the best closers in the game, he also knew he wouldn't have to play for another two hours, at minimum. Jeter, for better or worse, is still the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees: You get a sense that, at a lot of these ceremonies, he's going to have a fake smile plastered on and one foot already heading out onto the field.
But it will at least be amusing to see what everyone gives him. Sports Illustrated put together a gallery of Rivera's gifts from opposing teams last season, and you wonder what they'll possibly come up with for Jeter. In Toronto, Rivera received a carving of an Inuit icon; in Tampa, a bizarre, sort of terrifying sand sculpture; in San Diego, five beach cruisers; in Los Angeles, a fishing pole; in Oakland, a surfboard; in Cleveland, a gold record of a band Rivera does not like. It is to Rivera's eternal credit that he was able to smile and pose for pictures with all this junk -- and so much of it was junk; I guarantee you Rivera currently does not have the foggiest idea where that fishing pole is -- without looking bored or ungrateful. The guy should seriously run for president of Panama.
As respected as Jeter is, it's difficult to imagine him handling this regular nonsense with the same sort of magnanimity. He's not going to be rude, necessarily, but he's already hinting he might not have the stomach to smile and look happy when some local yokel presents him with a mashed potato statue of his face as Rivera was. "I did everything that I was supposed to do before I played," Jeter said Wednesday night. "[The ceremony] wasn't that long. So, no, it did not interfere with anything." (Another highlight from that story: Andy Pettitte insinuating Jeter would rather answer questions about his romantic life than go through this at every stop. You know, I doubt that.)
It is funny to think about, though. The Yankees' interleague road games this year are against the Mets, Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals. In Milwaukee, they should make him go down the slide. In Chicago, I'm already excited to see Jeter have to pose for a picture with that horrifying Clark mascot thing. (As for St. Louis: I hope you get along with Ozzie Smith, Derek, because you guys are going to be seeing a lot of each other that week in May.)
Though as much as Jeter protests, you can't help but think he has to secretly love it. Jeter is such a master of public relations -- I once wrote a feature on him that consisted of a series of 20 two-minute interviews, over a month-long span, which was all I could wrangle out of him -- that as much as he claims to hate it, you know he doesn't. People who truly hate being in the public eye -- Albert Belle, Marshawn Lynch, George Hendrick -- tend to have a lot more success in escaping it than Jeter ever has. He's too good at massaging the press and being famous and popular to really hate it. That he claims to want to avoid all the publicity while still being one of the most well-known people on the planet is the most Derek Jeter thing ever. Please, please, stop honoring me, you know much it bothers me, well, OK, thank you for these boots.
I think we should all appreciate this tour more, if not for Jeter, then just for the idea this will probably be the last one of these we go through for a long, long time. Todd Helton had a smaller version last year, too small, really, to count. On the scale of Jeter or Rivera, this has to be it for a while, doesn't it? The only person I can imagine having a farewell tour like this in the next five years would be David Ortiz, and I'm not sure he ever reached the heights of international fame as those two. (What exactly would they give Ortiz in, say, Kansas City?) After that … Albert Pujols, maybe? We do these tributes not for the players, really, but for ourselves: In all these cities, people do want to see Jeter one last time, even if it's a Jeter who can barely hit the ball out of the infield right now. Are there guys we'll feel that way about in 10 years?
So yeah, sorry Derek: You have to stand there and accept the key to the city of Oakland, a place we all know you'll never go again. You have to do it, and pretend you aren't eating every bit of it up. It feels good to say goodbye, even if we're not always sure why.
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