I did not expect to write anything about Derek Jeter for the Wednesday after the 2014 All-Star Game. I can understand if you don’t want to read anymore about him today, though I certainly appreciate it if you’re sticking with me here.
The internet and TV are surely bursting with stories on the Yankees shortstop batting 2-for-2 in his final Midsummer Classic. There will be so many tributes and testimonials to the grace he showed in tipping his cap to fans and fellow players, acknowledging their love and admiration for him. Here’s one more.
Jeter truly seemed to appreciate the moment, which feels like a rare thing in our increasingly cynical and desensitized culture. Better yet, he rose to the occasion, making a diving stop on a hard grounder up the middle by the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen in the first inning. Jeter didn’t throw the speedy McCutchen out at first base, but not many shortstops would have.
Even if he didn’t make the out, the play seemed like one final rebuke to those (including myself) who have knocked Jeter for his defense over the past few seasons. Maybe Jeter can’t get it done in the field consistently anymore, but he can still flash a slick glove when needed.
Then there was Jeter’s first at-bat versus Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. The ovation he got from the Target Field crowd was awesome, the kind of moment that you can feel even while watching on TV, because we all have a sense of what’s actually happening.
Wainwright certainly showed his appreciation by putting his glove down on the mound and joining in the applause for one of the best players we’ve seen during the past 20 years. Even when Jeter wanted to get on with the game, the Cards ace let the ovation continue for just a bit longer.
If you were someone fearing that this 85th All-Star Game would be a non-stop Derek Jeter show, I was right there with you. But speaking for myself, while the fans were paying tribute to Jeter, before Wainwright threw his first pitch, that opening moment made the whole night. (I also think Jeter asking catcher Jonathan Lucroy what Wainwright throws hilariously broke things up. The man has comic timing too, folks.)
The game seemed like it would be anticlimatic after that. Expect this All-Star Game wasn’t a letdown at all. It was one of the best in recent memory.
OK, back to Jeter and Wainwright. On the second pitch of the game, Jeter slashed a double into the right-field corner. He eventually scored the American League’s first run, driven in by a Mike Trout triple. Once again, Jeter rose to the moment, hitting the ball sharply off one of the best pitchers in MLB and helping to put his team ahead.
But did Jeter really rise to the occasion or did Wainwright help lift him up there? This became a trumped-up controversy as the game progressed. After leaving the game, Wainwright commented to reporters that he gave Jeter “a couple of pipe shots,” grooving in some pitches that Jeter could hit well.
Waino: “I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it. I didn’t know he was gonna hit a double or I might have changed my mind.”
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 16, 2014
Many interpreted Wainwright’s remarks as somehow taking away from Jeter’s moment. Oh yeah, Jeets got a big hit in his last All-Star Game, but only cuz I teed it up for him. Except that makes it sound as if Wainwright tossed the ball underhand to Jeter or set it on a tee for him. Should Wainwright have gone over to second base after Jeter doubled and rubbed him on the head? Atta boy, Jeets! Way to stroke it. Who’s a good Hall of Famer? Who’s a true Yankee? Good boy!
And since this is what we do now, people got worked up about this, as we tend to get worked up about all kinds of little things that really aren’t so important. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony in devoting a column to this circus. Thank you.) Apparently, the uproar was getting so loud that Fox felt the need to address the situation on-air while the All-Star Game was being played, resulting in 90 seconds of All-Star awkwardness.
Watching Wainwright have to backtrack, apologize and claim he “misspoke” on national TV was like watching him go apologize to a neighbor for hitting a baseball through her kitchen window. I’m sorry. I’ll pay for a new window with my paper route money. I promise.
This sort of sentiment has been expressed before, but let’s all remember Wainwright the next time our eyes glaze over and mouths sag open as we listen to another standard, boring, cliché-filled answer from an athlete who either has nothing to say or doesn’t want to say anything because of how it could be twisted and misinterpreted.
Wainwright gave an honest answer and was piled on by the outraged because of it. The argument could certainly be made that Wainwright shouldn’t have said anything about giving Jeter a pipe shot. I’m sure he regrets doing so. But what was the harm in what he said or supposedly did? He wanted to let Jeter have a moment — and rightly so, even if this game is supposed to count — but Jeter still had to earn it.
This led up to Jeter’s last shining moment in his final All-Star Game. After the game, reporters wanted to know what Jeter thought about Wainwright’s remarks. Did he feel like Wainwright tainted his moment by admitting he grooved a pitch for Jeter?
“If he grooved it, thank you,” Jeter said. “You’ve still gotta hit it. But if that’s what he did, I appreciate it.”
Just like that, this trumped-up attempt at a story and post-game narrative was over. Jeter basically laughed the whole thing off, demonstrating his years of experience in dealing with New York media trying to create something out of nothing. Everybody can put their controversy away, all right? Because none of this nonsense matters.
There has been a whole lot of tipping our caps to Jeter over the past couple of days and he returned the gesture to the Target Field crowd on Tuesday night. And here was one last hat tip to Wainwright. Thanks, buddy. It was just that simple, like a soft groundball hit to shortstop and a throw to first base.
With that, Jeter provided yet another example of tact and poise from a player who’s shown those traits throughout his 20-year career. That deserves our appreciation just as much as everything he’s accomplished on the field.