By Matthew Ross
SO LONG, CAPTAIN
Full disclosure, I’m a Boston Red Sox supporter. I have been ever since I saw my first game at Fenway as a kid. When my beloved Expos moved to Washington, D.C. following the 2004 season, my interest in the Sox took on a whole other level. Well, let’s be fair, it began in 2004, when they made that miracle championship run.
Along the way to ending their 86-year title drought, Boston came back on the New York Yankees, who led them 3-0 in the now historic American League Championship Series. But one guy who wasn’t at fault for New York’s collapse was their captain, Derek Jeter. The consummate professional in every sense of the word, both on and off the field, Derek Jeter has been hard to hate for Red Sox fans. There’s nothing about his persona, skill set or accomplishments that’s particularly offensive – and that’s the frustrating part.
For almost 20 years, Derek Jeter has been the face of Major League Baseball. Playing for the sport’s highest profile team, in the world’s largest sports market, Jeter has been almost perfect, in terms of a professional athlete. And it’s all coming to an end when he retires at the end of this season!
Few professional athletes have been above reproach in sports over the last two decades, and Derek Jeter is one of them. There’s Tim Duncan in the National Basketball Association, Peyton Manning in the National Football League and Sidney Crosby in the National Hockey League. That’s about it. Over the last 20 years, no other athlete has been as high profile and as squeaky clean as these four individuals. Just as this year’s Nike Michael Jordan Re2pect ad campaign showed us, the reason that Jeter has been able to remain atop the athlete food chain is one word – respect. No one in baseball has earned as much respect as the Yankees captain.
So, how has he earned this respect? By his actions on the field (multiple championships, All-Star appearances, membership in the 3,000 hit club and countless other awards). By his actions off of the field (no arrests, no controversies, no immature incidents). By his leadership in the locker room and the dugout (every teammate who has ever played with Jeter has been positively affected in some way).
The legend of Derek Jeter began early in his career, as he won a World Series in his first full year in the big leagues. It reached the next level with his iconic throw interception and subsequent flip to home plate for a game-saving postseason play versus Oakland in 2001. Finally, the legend was capped off with a two-for-two performance in this year’s All-Star game. Even Jeter’s quick pre-game locker room speech, which was caught on camera, was legendary, telling his fellow All-Stars to savor this moment and to realize that they never know if they’ll ever be back on this stage.
I can comfortably praise this New York Yankees player without having to turn in my Red Sox Nation membership card – that’s how universally respected the man is!
So who’s the MLB player ready to take over as the face of the sport? It’s tough to say. Many will point to men such as Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Others will prefer to look to veterans such as Albert Pujols or Troy Tulowitski of the Colorado Rockies. It’s tough to say.
Right now, all of the focus is on honoring and celebrating one of the most respected MLB players that the game has ever known. Somehow, I don’t expect A-Rod to get the same reception when he announces his retirement.
The end of an amazing baseball career is only the beginning for Jeter, who teamed up last fall with Simon & Schuster to create Jeter Publishing, a publishing house focused on releasing adult nonfiction, picture books, middle-grade fiction and we’re told even more. Jeter’s first of three children’s books set to go is “The Contract”, with a release date of September 23, 2014.
TOP NHL STORYLINES
When the NHL season rapidly approaches, I thought that I would highlight three key storylines to monitor come game one of the regular season in October.
How will the Washington Capitals play? Over the last few years, no one has really known what to expect from the Capitals. Fresh off missing the playoffs, they have shaken up the front office and made some changes on the ice as well. Many pundits have expressed outright mockery over how much the team has paid to upgrade its blue line. But at the end of the day, it usually comes down to the leadership and on-ice play of Alexander Ovechkin.
What will the NHL do for a cup final encore? Could Commissioner Gary Bettman have scripted a better Stanley Cup Final for his advertisers? Getting a New York versus Los Angeles showdown was a dream matchup for Bettman and the league. So will it be a spectacular letdown in 2015? I doubt it. When you consider that contenders such as Chicago and Boston are in strong media markets, chances are Bettman will have another marketable final series.
What will the concussion headlines be? In a sport that is perennially grappling with how to reduce the amount of serious injuries, it has been devastated with man games lost due to concussions suffered. Will this season be any different? How can they reverse this trend? What new measures will they put in place to counter this epidemic in the sport?
Matthew Ross is a longtime sports freelancer and radio host. Follow @MatthewWords