He was a boy with a simple dream. He just wanted to play ball for his favorite team. That team happened to be the greatest team in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees. And for the last 20 years, Derek Jeter has lived his dream. As shortstop and Captain of the team, he has earned a place as one of the best players in the history of the game.

Jeter practically invented the jump throw.
Jeter practically invented the jump throw.

Jeter, age 40, announced his retirement earlier this year. On Thursday, he donned the Yankees pin-striped uniform for the final time to play in his last home game. He could not have closed out his career any better. It was a perfect storybook ending:

The Yankees had been leading. Then in the top of the ninth, pitcher David Robertson allowed a pair of homers, and suddenly everything it was an entirely different ball game.  What had looked like a pretty sure thing for the Yanks was in jeopardy.

Bottom of the ninth. The Yankees last at-bats for the night. Jeter’s last professional at-bat for all time. And he hit a walkoff single that brought the winning run to the plate. It was more than perfect. It was a magical ending.  A miracle ending. It was New York Yankees ending.

Tomorrow, at Fenway Park in Boston, “out of respect for the Boston fans and the rivalry,” Derek Jeter will likely make an appearance as Designated Hitter, and then it’s over.  Sunday’s game will be the Yankees’ last for the season, sadly locked out of post-season play. For the team, there’s always next year.  For Jeter, it’s a wrap.

He has had an incredible career. As of Thursday: Five World Series rings, 3463 career hits (6th all time), 200 post-season hits, 2674 games at shortstop (2nd most all time). No player in the history of the NY Yankees has played more games, had more at-bats, more hits, more doubles, more stolen bases. It’s not just about statistics. Ability, integrity, loyalty, class, a leader, role model, a player admired by fans of all ages – he played clean during a time many players relied on performance enhancing drugs. It is all these things that has made Derek Jeter a great ballplayer and a great human being.

O Captain! My Captain! Saying goodbye to the New York fans Thursday
O Captain! My Captain! Saying goodbye to the New York fans Thursday

During his second year in the major leagues, Jeter established the Turn 2 Foundation, a charitable organization that helps children and teenagers avoid drug and alcohol addiction, and reward young people who show high academic achievement. I’ve always thought it said something very positive about the man that established his foundation so early in his career.

The last of the “Core 4” (Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera), the mighty sub-team that took the club to glory so many times during the Joe Torre years, and like Murderer’s Row, will be long remembered in the annals of Major League Baseball history. Last year Yankees fans bid goodbye to the Sandman, Mariano Rivera, and this year to the Captain . . . the end of an era.

Joe DiMaggio said once, “I’d like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.” I think what I have always liked best about Derek Jeter is that there was only one baseball team in this world for him. I’ve always felt the same way. No other ball club has had the magic, the history, or the thrills. As a Buddhist, I don’t know who to thank for the Yankees, but I’d sure like to thank Derek Jeter for the past 20 years.  It has been a treat to watch him play.

And as he retires, the Yanks are retiring his No. 2. That’s Re2pect.

Here’s something I saw on a fan sign during a recent games that really says it all:

Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened.

In the clip below, you’ll hear the voice of long time public address announcer for the Yankees, Bob Sheppard. When he died on July 11, 2010, Jeter asked that an audio recording of Sheppard’s introduction be used at Yankee Stadium whenever Jeter came to the plate. That’s Re2pect, too. You’ll also see a close-up of Jeter’s parents. And you’ll see a most amazing finale to a most amazing career.