NEW YORK — When Derek Jeter puts on New York’s navy pinstripes Thursday for one final home game, it won’t matter to a packed Yankee Stadium that there’s no postseason play on the line.
Teammates. Friends. Family. Fans. They will all be there for only one reason: to thank the captain.
“I think (Thursday) will be the culmination of all the love he has been shown and all the appreciation he has been shown this year and his career,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I think it’ll be something we’ll remember for a long time.”
After a season-long farewell tour around the major leagues, the New York Yankees — weather permitting — will play one last home game with No. 2 as their shortstop. If the first seven games of the team’s final homestand of 2014 is any indication, Jeter is in for a sendoff not seen at the Ballpark in the Bronx since perhaps Mickey Mantle retired.
Fans have stood with each and every at-bat, taking pictures and videos with their phones and cameras while chanting “Der-ek Je-ter!” and lauding him with sustained ovations. Middle-aged men have held up homemade signs like little kids praising the 14-time All-Star who helped bring five World Series championships to New York following the organization’s 17-year drought. Even former teammates and star players have made the trip to see him one more time.
Tickets on the secondary market for home game number 1,391 in Jeter’s 20-season career are going for $248 in the bleachers up to $10K in section 19, right next to the Yankees dugout. Regardless of an ominous forecast of rain well into the evening, the stadium should be packed.
“I’m sure it will be pretty emotional,” teammate Brett Gardner said. “It will be pretty special.”
The retiring 40-year from Kalamazoo, Michigan, has resisted acknowledging the curtain calls because he didn’t want to disrupt his teammates while the Yankees were clinging to the slim possibility of postseason play. But even for the player who is always so cool under pressure, so focused on the task at hand, he heard the calls.
“I’m aware of it. You can’t help but notice,” Jeter said. “I catch myself looking around sometimes and I’ve always tried not to do that, but I’ve caught myself a couple of times, so I’m aware.”
And now, after a 9-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, there’s nothing to play for but the goodbyes.
Being eliminated from postseason contention gives Girardi the luxury of orchestrating Jeter’s exit much the way he planned a special moment for Mariano Rivera’s departure last season.
In the closer’s final home game, Girardi, a former teammate of both stars, sent Jeter and Andy Pettitte to the mound to make the pitching change. Rivera cried on Pettitte’s shoulder and Jeter told him “It’s time to go.”
“The idea for Mo came to me a half-inning before I did it,” Girardi said. “So I’ll probably do this the same way.”
The Yankees still have three more games to play, in Boston, and whether Jeter dons New York’s road grays will be up to him. Girardi said he hopes to get a few minutes before the game Thursday to ask the last player to wear a single-digit number for the club what he would like to do.
“You’ve got to respect the fact that we just lost,” Jeter said when asked of his plans Wednesday. “I can’t tell you about Boston.”
His teammates expect him to play. It’s Jeter’s way, many of them insisted, and perhaps it will be a little easier for him after all the hoopla of the final home game. Whether he’d prefer to admit it or not, the finality of it all has been weighing on him.
“I tried to put it out of my mind but it’s getting more and more difficult to do that,” Jeter said.