It was almost three years ago, to the day.
I sat in front of my computer, speechless. Devastated. Hoping that what I was reading would turn out to be nothing more than a hoax. One news outlet after another would confirm the story, and my heart would continue to sink.
Derek Jeter was going to retire.
There is a cutoff. A line that separates the fan from the fanatic. Certainly, both are derived from the same word, but the former is a nickname, while the latter is a state of being.
I never crossed over. I was born on one side. The right side, as I would argue. The one that moves a grown man to tears when his boyhood idol calmly explains that he would no longer be playing the sport I love. To this day, almost exactly three years later, I cannot help but tear up when I think of the text messages I received - someone with absolutely no direct connection to Derek Jeter - asking if I was okay after hearing the news. And forget about memories of the night he actually finished his career in Yankee Stadium. I was a mess then, and I'm a mess if I even begin to recall it.
55Jeter63Derek.64 The man I, and millions of others, idolize. And in it, she recognizes and acknowledges one of the most fascinating elements of a fanatic's attachment to her husband.
Perhaps neither Hannah nor I could articulate it to perfection. We cannot exactly explain why this exists, but neither this random baseball zealot nor the woman who married the hero of an entire fanbase can deny some sort of connection.
What makes this intangible gravity even more incredible is that Derek Jeter is the one celebrity who many would argue never made his private life public. We may actually know less about Jeter than any other athlete of the last decade. Yet, still, we feel it.
Maybe it is because we watched Jeter play baseball, and we saw a ballplayer who battled for our franchise. Maybe it is because we watched fame envelop a young man and witnessed an adult emerge above the fray.
Now, it is because we are watching him take the next step in his life. And this time, he is the one trying to be like us.
For once, we can place Derek Jeter in our shoes, and not the other way around. Especially for those of us fathers with daughters - I am blessed with two - we can look at Derek and Hannah Jeter, and smile for the unparalleled level of love we know they will receive.
Once again, I can ask myself the easy question. The one Hannah asked. The one that has no answer.
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Then I remember the emotions. The November night in the stands of Yankee Stadium. The times my father and I would share a World Series win. The times I feared no athlete could ever be idolized. And the times Derek Jeter proved that argument false.
I see my Jeter jersey draped over my office chair. I see a picture of an iconic athlete holding pink balloons and smiling from ear-to-ear. The same athlete that has brought me joy. I know that, in that moment, he is neither a ballplayer nor a celebrity. He is a dad. And I smile because I know what he will soon feel. Elation. Fear. Constant worry. Unconditional love.
I smile because Derek Jeter just stepped into my ballpark.