Opinion: Minnesota, and baseball, get Jeter’s sendoff just right
MINNEAPOLIS — As Derek Sanderson Jeter graced his final All-Star game, what made the moment special was what it was not.
Not contrived. Not manufactured. Not choreographed by a video board operator with his button on the oversized clapping hands, or by event planners with a budget fit for a royal wedding.
There will be time for all of that. The New York Yankees will make sure of it.
Bless the Minnesota Twins for not intruding on the moment with a gaudy ceremony. This was an understated evening — at Target Field, if not on television — the chance for the players to say farewell to the retiring Jeter in their own way.
“That was much better,” Jeter said, “than if there was something that was scripted.”
The Mike Trout comparisons are not really about ability and talent. Trout has more now, at 22, than Jeter ever had. The face of the game is the one that plays hard, keeps his head down, and acts as an ambassador for his sport without a hint of controversy.
Jeter gets it. He gathered the players on the American League team before the game, to say thank you to them.
Trout gets it too. “We should be thanking him,” Trout said, “for what he brings to the game.”
When the AL took the field, Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson waited behind, so Jeter could have the whole left side of the infield to himself. When Jeter led off for the AL in the bottom of the first, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright lingered on the mound so Jeter could enjoy the cheers — not just from the fans, but from the players on the top step of each dugout.
Jeter doubled, matching his total of extra-base hits this month. Not long after, Wainwright told reporters he had given Jeter “a couple of pipe shots” — that is, grooved a couple of pitches.
That is a proud baseball tribute. Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, a Twins icon, grooved a batting practice fastball to Brian Downing in what was the final at-bat of Downing’s 20-year career. Downing slapped a single, left for a pinch-runner, then rode off into retirement on his motorcycle.
This is an exhibition game. Justin Verlander thought the fans would want to see him pump fastball after fastball in the All-Star game two years ago. They did, and he did. He gave up five runs in an inning, and who cares?
Wainwright later said he “misspoke” and called himself an “idiot” for suggesting he grooved pitches to Jeter.
“If he grooved it, thank you,” Jeter said, offering yet another lesson in defusing controversy. “I appreciate it.”
In the fourth inning, after Jeter had taken the field, AL manager John Farrell sent in Alexei Ramirez to replace him. Jeter left the field to cheers, got a round of hugs in the dugout, then hopped back onto the field for a curtain call.
“It was a special moment,” Jeter said, “and it was unscripted.”
Said Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price: “It’s because of who he is. I don’t feel he has ever wanted the spotlight. He didn’t want this All-Star game to be about him, even though it is. You could tell he was kind of taken aback.”
We were taken aback, too, when Jeter got two hits and Trout still was selected as the game’s most valuable player. But Trout deserved it, and it certainly fit the designated story line, the passing of the torch from Jeter to the kid who grew up with Jeter posters on his bedroom walls.
“Let Mike be Mike,” Jeter said. “I don’t think people have to necessarily appoint someone to a particular position.”
Trout is the second-youngest player to win All-Star MVP, behind Ken Griffey Jr. He has seven career All-Star at-bats, with four hits.
Jeter will retire with 27 All-Star at-bats and 13 hits, a .481 average. He left behind that standard for Trout, but not before a good ribbing. When Trout came out of the game in the sixth inning, Jeter asked him why a 22-year-old could not handle all nine innings.
“He was messing around with me,” Trout said. “It’s all for fun. It’s special for me. Chills, goose bumps, you name it. Everything was running through my body.”
Here’s looking forward to the kid who says that about Trout at the 2031 All-Star game.