In 1995, I turned 10. For my birthday (September 20th), my mother took me and a few friends to see the New York Yankees host the Toronto Blue Jays. We went early, to see the teams take batting practice. We missed seeing the Yankees warm up, but as the Blue Jays were wrapping up, two Yankees rookies, who had been shagging fly balls, tucked their gloves under the arms and walked over to the railing for the seats nearest the field—one in left field, and one in right. They began to take items from the fans (balls, hats, programs) and returned them, graciously, signed. My mom pushed through the crowd with a ball we had caught earlier, yelling at the other autograph hounds that it was for her son’s 10th birthday, and would they please let her through? She came back with a ball signed by outfield prospect Ruben Rivera. On the other side was infielder Derek Jeter. Both were young, with immense potential, up for a proverbial September cup of coffee; neither played that day.
Rivera flamed out, ending up best known for “the worst baserunning in the history of the game.” Jeter, of course, became Derek Jeter.
Almost 20 years later, I went to see Jeter’s penultimate game at the Stadium (not the one I loved as a child, but its shiny, chilly replacement), also around my birthday. This time, there was little else to see but the Captain: his image was splashed across pylons from the field level to the grandstand and on the $6 commemorative cups of soda; flags with his uniform #2 festooned the stadium in place of the regular standards demarking the combatant teams; a newly designed Jeter Shield of Honor was ubiquitous, painted on the field, sewn onto uniforms and hats, and stamped on every purchasable good in a mile radius.