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WHY DERECK JETER IS A CHAMPION

It was just a couple of seconds that showed why Dereck Jeter is a champion baseball player. Wednesday night, as The Great Mariano Rivera threw the last baseball of the 2009 season, inducing a ground ball off the bat of Philadelphia Phillies’ Shane Victorinoto to Yankee’s second baseman Robinson Cano, who then threw it to first for a routine out to seal the Yankees 27th World Series Championship, the whole Stadium erupted in wild cheers, fans and players. Everyone but one guy, the shortstop Dereck Jeter.

Jeter was still putting himself into position to make any play necessary in case anything went wrong, making 100% sure that the play was completed properly and game was really over. One of the cameras had a shot of Jeter reacting to the batted ball, and only after the umpire called the runner out and the game over did his face and body relax and he joined the whooping and cheering celebration with his teammates. Great players and champions that they are, they did not have the presence of mind that Jeter has, the complete focus on the ball game that does not end until the game does.

He has shown moments like this for his entire remarkable career, most notably in a playoff game several years ago when he appeared out of nowhere behind home plate all the way from deep shortstop to pick off an errant relay throw and flip the ball to his long-time teammate catcher Jorge Posada in time to tag out a runner trying to score and end a potential rally by the other team. Everyone was stunned by this unprecedented improvisation, even veteran baseball men who has watched thousands and thousands of professional games. To this day it is known as “the Jeter flip play,” and every baseball fan gets the reference.

No one had ever seen that play before (or since) and people were shocked, especially the other team. It seems everyone was stunned except Jeter’s teammates, who know that he is the most heads up baseball player of them all. As Lawrence Taylor was to football, always where the ball was, Jeter is to baseball. He sees the whole field in one sweep and is never out of position on any batted ball, even when he is nowhere near where his position is supposed to be, like diving 3 rows deep into the stands after a foul ball and coming out with a black eye and a bloody gash on his face. And oh, by the way, the ball in his glove for the final out to end the inning and another rally by another stunned opponent.

It has been a long drought between World Series wins for Jeter, who won four of them in his first five full as a New York Yankee. It must have seemed to that very young man that he would be wining a lot more of them on his way to being 35, his current age. In spite of being in the playoffs every year of his career except for last year, it has been 9 years and 2 lost World Series since the Yankees won it all, so this one must seem the sweetest of them all to Jeter. Sweeter still, he and his 3 remaining teammates from those early glory days were instrumental in winning Wednesday’s game.

Starting the game was Andy Pettitte, now a 37 year-old crafty veteran pitcher, and catching him was Jorge Posada. Jeter collected 3 hits in the game, a double and 2 singles, scoring 2 runs in the 7-3 victory. Finishing up the game on the pitcher’s mound was Mariano Rivera, the greatest closing pitcher ever to play the game and holder of many post-season records.. Pettitte got the win to match the one he got in last Saturday’s game and now has now won more games than any other pitcher in post-season history with 18 victories to his credit. Jeter now has the most hits ever in the post-season with 175. These Four Amigos are the heart and soul of the Yankees.

And yet with all these numbers and personal heroics, this win has to be especially savored by these four men who learned how very special it is to win the World Series after the reality of how very difficult it is has sunk in during the years with no championships to show for their efforts. They knew that even with this great team the Yankees had assembled this year that ultimate victory was no sure thing and they played every moment on the field with a laser-like focus on the immediate task at hand; the next play, the next pitch, the next game.

None of them let up until the final out of the final game of 2009, and Jeter didn’t let up until 2 or 3 seconds later, just in case. He was still poised to pounce like a panther, to spring into action to see if there was one more thing he needed to do for his team to secure this championship over and above his stellar fielding and .407 batting average for this World Series, one thing large or small, routine or spectacular, or completely unexpected. It’s no accident the man is a champion and the captain of the most successful and well known professional sports franchise ever. Jeter has for years been the face of baseball in an era of many great baseball players, a lot of them with gaudier home run and RBI numbers than his, but no one has been a better baseball player, no one has been more prepared and no one has had the capacity to do the unexpected and to remain so completely focused.

That this World Series win should come in the inaugural season of the new Yankee Stadium is icing on the cake. That it came against a talented and dangerous team that won last year’s Series was special too, the best against the best. That it featured incredible performances from teammates Alex Rodriguez, C.C.Sabathia, Johnny Damon and the batting star and Series MVP, Hideki Matsui, as well as the original Four Amigos was fantastic for the team, the city and Yankee fans everywhere. This team and this town and these fans are very lucky to have had Dereck Jeter, to witness the journey of a  hard-working kid who struck it rich and never slacked off, never let his team down, never betrayed his talent or the trust placed in him for a single second of his 15 years at the top of a very talented heap of athletes. Now he’s a champion once again, and those 2 or 3 seconds of videotape showed the world exactly why.

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