Goodbye to The Captain

I started writing this on 26 September 2014. I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to finish it. Maybe  it’s cos it is my sister’s birthday; and she loves baseball, especially the St. Louis Cardinals. But this is not about a Cardinal, but rather a Yankee.

In Derek Jeter’s final at bat at home in Yankee Stadium, he hits a game winning single to win the game for the Yanks. My cousin Betsy and her family attended, their little boy Nicholas able to see the Captain one more time in his greatness. I’ve always hated the New York Yankees, especially as a youngster growing up. When I was a little kid, just moving to the States, the Yankees had some iconic teams with Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Goose Gossage, Greg Nettles, Dave Winfield, as well as other colorful and talented ballplayers, not to mention HOF managers.

By the time I was in my late teens, the Yankees were no longer mainstays in the postseason. That changed in the mid-nineties when they brought up youngsters Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada – The Core Four – in what would be an unprecedented run playing sixteen consecutive seasons together (with three of them playing seventeen together), winning four out of five World Series to end the millennium (and a total of five their careers). I wanted to hate the Yankees during that run; and for the most part I did. I hated them especially in 2001 when they beat Ichiro’s Mariners, and in 2003, when Aaron Boone hit the homer to send the Red Sox home. The reality was when I think about those Yankees, there is something about them that I loved, a far cry from everything I have ever said about them. It was Jeter and Rivera that I could not help but admire. So when Rivera retired following the 2013 season and Jeter after the 2014 season, I felt an emptiness. The game of baseball would miss them. I imagine Yankees’ fans felt a loss far more than that.

That same year, to lesser fanfare, Paul Konerko, the Chicago White Sox stalwart who hit a grand slam in 2005 World Series, also retired. In the 1950’s, the Yanks and the Sox had wars, the Yankeed winning every year except 1958 when the South Sidere finally went to the World Series. So it makes sense to me, decades later, while a couple iconic Yankees retired, a comparable South Sider would too. Konerko ended number two in White Sox history in many offensive categories (mostly behind HOFer Frank Thomas). Another player who played his entire career for one team, south siders would miss Konerko. There’s something about loyalty that has been missing in sports for so, so long. Konerko, Jeter and Rivera embodied the old school way of thinking, and playing.

The most old school guy of my generation could be Cal Ripken, Jr. I met Ripken a few years ago, was seated next to him at a dinner and we talked for several hours, all about baseball. That night was years of baseball knowledge inside me geeking out for a few hours; I was a caged animal waiting a lifetime to let his baseball love out into the open. I knew Ripken would understand. He loved baseball even more than me; and I didn’t even think it was possible, until meeting him. I asked him who he thought was the best player in baseball. Without hesitation, Ripken said Trout; and Trout has only been in the bigs for a few months. That’s how good he was; and with his potential not even realized, the ceiling to his accomplishments were limitless. And yet all he’s done since then is prove Ripken and everyone else correct. The Iron Man played for the Baltimore Orioles his entire career, spanning more than two decades.

I was reminded of the other greats during my lifetime of iconic players who donned their uniforms with one team and one team only… George Brett, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandburg, and Kirby Puckett.

A thought struck me. I wish I could go back and love my teams and my players the way I did back then. The love for your teams of your youth during your youth is unparalleled. It’s among the purest lives in the history of love. It’s the kind of love only a child can have. Out of all the sports franchises out there, the only one that can evoke that kind of emotion within me are the Chicago Cubs. If they win the World Series, I will cry. Happily.

Jeter is gone. Rivera is gone.
Baseball won’t be the same.

Cal Ripken

Go Adventure. Go Travel. Go Live.

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