Opening Day is a day of rebirth. The promise of a fresh season resting just beyond the tossing of the first pitch is enough to wipe away the past season’s disappointments. It is another opportunity for the victors of the previous year to celebrate their memories and begin defending their champion title. It is a time to revel in the newness of the season and in anticipation of all of the unexpected surprises that will undoubtedly pop up throughout the summer and early fall.
Before selling my soul to the cold and moving to Washington, D.C. to attend this fine establishment, arriving at the ballpark early on Opening Day to grab a cheeseburger with my brothers and father was an occasion I eagerly anticipated. Sitting down the third base line and looking up at all the field-preppers hastily grooming the dirt to perfection while the players launched warm up throws across the outfield inspired an elation in me that only Opening Day could bring about. These days, separated by many thousands of miles from my home ballpark, I have to make due with a small student-budget television and a stiff Village B couch in viewing the beginning of a brand new season, but regardless of where I am or who I’m with, Opening Day still inspires the same joy.
This season, though, Opening Day took up a heavier focus on completeness and finalization, as the baseball world has finally reached the beginning of Derek Jeter’s last season in uniform. The 39-year old Yankees shortstop has been the face of baseball for almost two decades. After his 2013 season was cut short because of an injury, he announced in the offseason that his twentieth season in pinstripes would be his last. So, when Jeter stepped onto the field this past weekend in New York for his ultimate Opening Day start, Major League Baseball and its fans looked on with feelings much to the contrary of what baseball’s first day typically evokes.
Throughout baseball’s tumultuous battle with steroid abusers and the current shift away from the traditional nature of the game, Jeter has always been a beacon for how baseball should be played and how professional athletes should behave themselves. On the field, he epitomized what it meant to play with passion, as well as etiquette, by balancing both the fervor to win with the recognition of how important playing with respect and composure really is. Off the field, Jeter never made a big fuss about his personal life and, quite remarkably, was able to keep the attention off his private life, leading the media to focus on his production as a ballplayer.
Today’s baseball players need to take a serious look at how Jeter constructed his career and managed his Hall of Fame worthy success. Five World Series rings, over 3,300 hits, 13 All Star Game selections, Yankee Captain, career batting average over .300, more than 1,200 Runs Batted In, and never did Yankee fans, players, or coaches need to worry about his composure or behavior. The MLB’s youngsters should be making an attempt to live up to the Jeter Standard, instead of hot-dogging it around causing a ruckus both on and off the field (I’m looking at you, Yasiel Puig and Bryce Harper).
Jeter has never played for a team other than the Yankees since his debut in 1995, a feat that seems incomprehensible with the way players seem to jump straight to the highest bidder. Not that the Yankees ever had any shortage of cash to deal out to Jeter, but his dedication to the team ranks right up there with any of his physical achievements and statistics. The qualities he embodies as a ballplayer have exalted him to much more than just the guy with the number “2” on his back.
He is not just baseball’s greatest role model, but possibly one of the most outstanding figures in sports worldwide. If there is ever any question as to how appreciated his contribution to the game has been, just keep track of the gifts and pre-game ceremonies he receives while on the road this season. Jeter may have brought the attention away from the fresh atmosphere of a new season this past Opening Day, but over twenty seasons, he will have surely provided a lasting impression for future athletes to abide by as right way of doing things—the Jeter Standard.