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Watching a Legend MAG
My dad once told me, “Watching Derek Jeter play is like watching Babe Ruth: he’s gonna be a legend.” Babe Ruth hit 16 grand slams in his career. And Jeter, well, that’s my story …
On Saturday, June 18, 2005, my dad and I passed through the gates of Yankee Stadium for what we assumed would be just another game, hopefully a win. We took the escalator to our seats.
As we passed through our entrance a sea of blue hats filled my view. The usual sensation of walking into Yankee Stadium filled my body: a rush with shivers running up and down my spine at the sight of the field. The smell of popcorn and hot dogs filled the air. We sat, waiting for the game against the Chicago Cubs to begin.
Six innings and one out later, Derek Jeter stepped up to bat. Every time he is at bat he does the same thing. First he adjusts the Velcro on his batting gloves. Then he plants his feet shoulder-width apart a couple of feet from the plate. As he digs his feet into the ground, he lifts his right arm into the air behind him. Finishing his routine, he looks toward the pitcher and prepares for the throw.
Today the bases were loaded. Whispers began to spread through the stadium like wildfire: “He’s never done it before.” “Who says today can’t be the day?” The sign “Ducks on a pond” had already popped up once on the digital board that day, and it was a letdown when Jeter missed that grand slam opportunity. Here was yet another chance. I could only imagine how he must feel. Sure, baseball players must learn how to control their anxiety, but still, the chance for him to get his first grand slam? His stomach must have been doing flips as he positioned his feet.
The first pitch whipped by on the inside. Ball one. The catcher returned the ball, and the runners retreated to their bases in preparation for another leadoff. In the stands, we anxiously waited, hoping, wishing for a hit that would send the ball soaring out of the park.
Jeter eyed the pitcher, Joe Borowski, as he wound up for the second pitch. It hurled out of Borowski’s hand to the outside, giving Jeter a 2-and-0 count. The crowd clapped, cheered, and whooped in hopes of a pitch in the strike zone.
The next pitch was there, and Jeter swung and missed. Strike one. The crowd could barely contain their anticipation of the next pitch. Everyone around us was whistling, clapping, or shouting at the top of their lungs in hopes that their shout would help Jeter get the hit he wanted. Then Borowski delivered the pitch.
The stadium knew it was gone before it left Jeter’s bat. All 50,000 fans leapt to their feet when they heard the crack as it made contact with the ball. Every eye followed the ball. I stood on my seat to get a better view. My dad and I watched it rocket high into the air, clear the fence, and land in the Yankee’s bullpen.
The crowd went wild. Jeter threw his fist in the air in triumph and began rounding the bases with the other three runners. My dad and I high-fived each other and the strangers in the seats around us.
Everyone was grinning from ear
to ear. The screams, whistles, and whoops combined to make one extraordinarily loud stadium. I had never seen a crowd so excited; in fact, I had never been so excited myself. Strangers were hugging each other, the fans were jumping up and down, and Jeter’s team rushed onto the field to congratulate him.
The smiles on people’s faces would have made anyone believe that at that moment nothing else in the world mattered. Jeter had hit his first grand slam, and we were there to see it.
Jeter rounded third base and dashed down the home stretch toward his team. His foot pounded on home plate, and dirt sprayed behind him as he vanished into the embrace of teammates. They walked back to the dugout as the scoreboard changed to 7-1 Yankees. The stadium chanted “Der-ek Je-ter, Der-ek Je-ter …” as he descended into the dugout to receive a heartfelt hug from manager Joe Torre. Then Jeter reappeared to acknowledge his fans. Removing his cap, he recognized the standing ovation that had not let up.
I stood looking down at my favorite baseball player of all time in complete agreement with my dad. Watching Derek Jeter is like watching Babe Ruth: it is watching a legend playing the greatest American pastime, baseball.