Whether the deal will go through is still unclear, and Bush’s involvement may be tricky for those who like to keep their politics and sports separate. But Feinsand said he saw this potential association with a different franchise as a new chapter in which Jeter has the chance to prove, once again, that he’s a winner. “I think baseball misses him,” Ian O’Connor, an ESPN writer and the author of The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter, told me in an email. “I think baseball wants him as owner of the Marlins or another team, because it wants to be associated with him. It’s good for business.”
The undercurrent of all this change is, again, nostalgia—both the collective and deeply individual kind. Jeter’s decades-long career encompassed at least one rite of passage for every fan in Yankee Stadium: As for me, he played through my first day of kindergarten, the day I got my driver’s license, and the moment my parents pulled away from my dorm freshman year of college.
And so it was fitting in some ways that I was present for one of Jeter’s rites of passage: the retiring of his jersey number. Though some current players around the league wear the number two because of Jeter, no future Yankees will. Batcho said retiring the number is a particularly important symbol for a healthy transition into a new Jeter era. “It’s an acknowledgement that this person will never be replaced, there’s no one else who can ever fill their shoes,” she explained. That no one else in pinstripes will ever wear the number two is a declaration that Jeter—and everyone else who had a hand in his career—is irreplaceable.
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One of the reasons I idolized Jeter was because he seemed like the living embodiment of Superman. His career was filled with moments that would be cut from Hollywood scripts because they seemed too perfect and cliché to ever possibly be true. His clutch gene melted hopes and dreams into possibilities and eventualities, but it was his everyday hustle that made him an icon. He was the ultimate role model because, as Curry told me, he “played with grit. There are some guys who are great, and they have a little bit of swagger ... Jeter was great, but he also played like a guy who was trying to make sure he kept his roster spot, that he was worried every day that he was going to lose his job.”
O’Connor said that while Jeter was in the league, he was nearly universally respected because he embodied the spirit of a ballplayer: He played hard, he was a winner, and he carried himself with dignity on and off the field. Such a grace is rare, especially in what O’Connor described as “the world’s noisiest marketplace.”
That noisy New York City marketplace embraced Jeter, and there’s no question that he’ll always be a Yankee—regardless of if he owns part of another team. Ahead of Sunday’s festivities, wistful promotional videos, advertisements, and interviews about the former (though, in my mind, only) Yankee captain leveraged that genuine identity. Each was tinged with notes of yearning, because with every impeccably produced “Love Letter” and Budweiser ad were reminders that this is no longer the heyday of Jeter’s Yankees.