Perpetual All-Star Jeter never lost modesty
Respect, admiration for Yankees captain shown for last time on All-Star stage
MINNEAPOLIS -- There are only a few players who are transcendent figures, even if they might be too modest to admit it.
Derek Jeter has been in that category for some time; not only for the quality of his play, not only for the five World Series he has helped the Yankees win, but for the way he has carried himself.
In this, the last season of his magnificent career, Jeter has been honored from city to city. The remainder of the season will see even more ceremonies and honors and praise bestowed on the Captain.
And it's all deserved, richly deserved. There is no serious dispute about this, which is one thing that sets Jeter apart. His status is no longer up for debate.
On Tuesday night, there was a special stop in Jeter's final campaign -- the 85th All-Star Game, this one held at Target Field. It ended with a 5-3 victory for the American League, which was what the circumstances with Jeter demanded.
Jeter spoke to his AL All-Star teammates before the game.
"He just wanted to thank us," said Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who won the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. "But we should be thanking him for everything he brings to the game."
In pregame introductions, Jeter received the kind of ovation that would have led you to believe that he was a longstanding star for the Twins.
Jeter led off the first for the AL and was greeted by a prolonged standing ovation. Every time it seemed to be fading a bit, the ovation picked up volume. National League starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy respectfully backed away from home plate to let Jeter have not only center stage, but pretty much the entire stage. The NL starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, placed his glove on the mound and walked a respectful distance away. Jeter doffed his helmet and acknowledged the cheers.
"Adam had his glove on the mound, and I tried to tell him to pick it up, let's go," Jeter said. "But he took a moment and let the fans give me an ovation, which I'll always remember. He's one of the best pitchers in the game, and for him to do that says a lot about him and how much of a class act he is."
Jeter then responded to this outpouring of respect and affection with a solid double down the right-field line. This set in motion a three-run inning for the AL, as Trout tripled and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer.
Wainwright later said that he had grooved a pitch to Jeter.
"He deserved it," Wainwright said.
Many of us were in complete agreement with that sentiment, but we were happier when we thought the double was all Jeter. Wainwright later recanted and said that he had not grooved a pitch to Jeter.
The Captain brushed off the controversy.
"If he grooved it, thank you," Jeter said. "But you've still got to hit it.'
Jeter encored in the third inning with an opposite-field single. Then we were all treated to a rare occurrence; a manager of the Red Sox arranging for the greater glory of a Yankees player. It was a classy move by AL manager John Farrell, having Jeter take the field for the beginning of the fourth inning and then replacing him with White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
This gave the Target Field crowd of 41,048 one more chance to shower Jeter with even more admiration. A thunderous ovation ensued, and it didn't end until after Jeter came out of the AL dugout for a curtain call.
OK, this is a region known for "Minnesota nice" -- a byword for courtesy, graciousness and generally civilized behavior. But Jeter would have received similar treatment in almost any city in North America, Boston included.
"It was a wonderful moment that I'm always going to remember," Jeter said. "I appreciate John doing that for me. To have that moment in the All-Star Game is special."
Even as Jeter has maintained his modesty through success and stardom, the rest of the baseball world can appreciate him for what he is.
Commissioner Bud Selig on Tuesday referred to Jeter as "the face of baseball."
"You couldn't have a better one," Selig said. "How lucky can this sport be to have the icon of this generation be Derek Jeter?"
Jeter has kept specializing in not taking himself as seriously as that. Selig told a story of a conversation he had with Jeter and Jeter's parents, in which Selig was saying what a wonderful fellow Jeter was in all respects.
At this point, Selig reported, Jeter said: 'Boy, I sure fooled you, didn't I?"
After the game, Jeter was asked, in light of all of the accolades that were headed in his direction, how he maintained focus in the face of all this adoration.
"It's much easier to maintain focus through adoration, as opposed to anger and hatred," Jeter said with a smile. "Playing with the Yankees, we've gotten the other side of the spectrum as well. So this is a lot easier than the other side of it.
"I appreciate everything I've gotten in this game, but I do try to focus on the game. That's how I've been able to handle playing all this time."
This night in Minnesota was suitably rich in meaning but also in gratitude; as everybody from fans to teammates took the opportunity to say a heartfelt "thank you" to Derek Jeter.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.