By Pat Borzi
Accepting a gift takes a certain amount of humility and grace. Derek Jeter, of course, has plenty of both.
Jeter's farewell tour (just don't call it that around him) resumes on July 28 in Texas, after the Yankees finish a 10-game homestand. In the cities where the Yankees go only once a season, teams are honoring Jeter with tokens of appreciation in pregame ceremonies. The race is on to see which club can come up with the most clever and distinctive set of presents.
AL East teams have yet to be heard from. Seeing the warm hugs Jeter received from Red Sox players and coaches Tuesday night at the All-Star Game suggest the festivities in Boston later this season might be the most memorable of all.
Monday, the day before the All-Star Game in Minneapolis, Jeter deftly sidestepped a question about which gifts made the biggest impression.
"They've all been unique to the cities and stadiums we've been to," Jeter said. "I don't want to rate them or anything. They've all been pretty special. ... They all mean something. It's tough for me to say which one means more or which one is more special, because they all are."
Jeter may not want to rate them, but we will, based on creativity, city identity, and personal significance to The Captain. Not suggesting any of these are lame -- far from it, and most included generous donations to Jeter's charity the Turn 2 Foundation -- but it gives the clubs who have yet to host Jeter something to aim for.
1. LEGO portrait and Gibson Les Paul guitar, Cleveland. Easily the most inspired so far.
Visiting clubhouse manager Wayne Peltz specializes in LEGO portraits; one of the Yankees Core Four (Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera) hangs in the visitors clubhouse at Progressive Field. In the portrait presented July 10, Jeter is depicted hitting his first major league home run on Apr. 2, 1996, off Dennis Martinez at what was then called Jacobs Field.
The guitar, a nod to the nearby Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is white with pinstripes. Jeter doesn't play guitar but certainly could break it out the next time Bernie Williams drops by. Ex-Yankees Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher handled the presentation.
2. A No. 2 placard from Wrigley Field scoreboard, Chicago Cubs. Nothing says Wrigley Field like a piece of the oldest scoreboard in baseball. Iconic and understated, just like the recipient.
3. Second base from final game at Metrodome, Minnesota. Hard to top what the Twins gave Mariano Rivera last year, a rocking chair built with broken bats. But Jeter particularly appreciated this, as well as kind words from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, a good sport even after losing four straight Division Series to the Yankees between 2003 and 2010. "We've taken a lot of pain from you," he said.
The base recalls a heads-up play even the most devout Jeter-philes may have forgotten.
In the eighth inning of 2009 Division Series Game 3, with the Twins trying to avoid being swept in their last year at the Metrodome, Jeter fielded a slow grounder behind second and threw home to trap Nick Punto, the potential tying run. Punto, thinking the ball sneaked through, ran too far past third base and was out in a rundown. That was Minnesota's last gasp in a 4-1 loss.
4. Kingdome seat, Safeco Field base and personalized watch, Seattle. Jeter made his major-league debut at the Kingdome on May 29, 1995, and got his first big-league hit there the next day. The watch, from former Yankee Robinson Cano, is inscribed thusly: "To Derek…thank you for showing me how to be a leader…with love and respect….RC."
5. Golf trip and gold bat, Milwaukee. Brewers special assistant Dick Groch, the former Yankees scout who signed Jeter out of Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan in 1992, was on hand as Jeter accepted a trip to a luxury resort in Wisconsin, golf at Whistling Straights (the site of two PGA Championships) and a gold replica bat. As happens every time Jeter steps to the plate at Yankee Stadium, the recorded voice of the late Bob Sheppard introduced Jeter before his first-inning at-bat.
6. Cowboy hat, pinstriped boots and golf clubs, Houston. What else would you expect in Texas? The Yankees opened the season in Houston, and the Astros set the bar high. Lone Star Staters and ex-Yankees Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Mike Stanton, along with pro golfers Mark O'Meara and Lucas Glover, presented the swag. Houston and New York might be the only big cities in America where someone could walk the streets in pinstriped cowboy boots without drawing a second look.
7. Subway tile mosaic and custom cake, New York Mets. Instead of the cake, from New Jersey-based TV Cake Boss Buddy Valastro in Hoboken, N.J., I might have chosen something more local -- say, a lifetime supply of veal parmigiana heroes from Mama's, the outstanding Italian deli a few blocks from Citi Field. But I never would have traded Tom Seaver, either.
8. Cuff links, St. Louis. Old fashioned yet timeless. Links bear the likeness of the late Cardinals great Stan "The Man" Musial, long the standard for class and dignity in St. Louis.
9. Baseball-themed bench and infield clay, Chicago White Sox. Former Yankee and Sox star Ron Kittle constructed the bench out of bats, balls and bases. Perhaps inspired by Twins gift to Rivera; teams are AL Central rivals.
10. Personalized Hobie paddleboard, Anaheim. Not sure how age-appropriate this is for a 40-year-old, but it sure looks cool. Jersey guy Mike Trout, a childhood fan of Jeter and the Yankees, joined Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver and Howie Kendrick for the honors.
11. Wine country private tour (along with wine), Oakland. What, the A's couldn't bring back Jeremy Giambi to hand this out?
12. Cookie from Adam Wainwright, All-Star Game, Minnesota. A different kind of present, and certainly one the .272-hitting Jeter needed the least, given the fallout after.
Jeter could have made this nine times worse had he ripped Wainwright, or taking the gesture as an insult. Instead he accepted this gift like he has all the others, with heartfelt appreciation.
"If he grooved it, thank you," he said. "You still got to hit it. I appreciate it if that's what he did. Thank you."
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Pat Borzi, a former Yankees and Mets beat writer for the (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, has covered major league baseball since 1988. His work appears frequently in The New York Times.