NEW YORK (AP) — Standing on the field with a microphone, the end of his baseball career likely three weeks away, Derek Jeter remained as cool and collected as his play at shortstop over the past two decades.
The New York Yankees honored their retiring captain Sunday with a 45-minute pregame ceremony that included surprise appearances by NBA great Michael Jordan and baseball ironman Cal Ripken Jr.
Reserved as always and with no hints of tears, Jeter thanked people a dozen times as he spoke to a capacity crowd of 48,110 at Yankee Stadium for about 3 minutes before a 2-0 loss to Kansas City further damaged New York’s slim playoff chances.
“It’s kind of hard to believe that 20 seasons has gone by so quickly,” the 40-year-old Jeter said following a 1½-minute ovation. “You guys have all watched me grow up over the last 20 years. I’ve watched you, too. Some of you guys getting old, too. But I want to thank you for helping me feel like a kid for the last 20 years.”
A 14-time All-Star who is sixth on the career hits list, Jeter sparked a Yankees renaissance that began with a World Series title in 1996 as he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. He led the team to three consecutive championships from 1998-2000, was named captain in 2003 and then won a fifth Series in 2009 that raised the team’s record total to 27.
He missed most of 2013 after breaking his ankle during the playoffs the previous October, made his retirement announcement just before spring training in February and has followed with a respectable but unspectacular final season, his speed, range and power diminished but a starting shortstop until the end. He beat out a grounder to the shortstop hole for an infield single in the first inning and ended the day batting .260 with three homers and 40 RBIs.
Jeter produced a series of indelible moments: his homer and over-the-shoulder catch on his first opening day in 1996, backhanded flip to the plate against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs and Mr. November home run just after midnight a few weeks later that won World Series Game 4. There was a face-first dive into the seats for a popup against Boston in 2004, the farewell speech at old Yankee Stadium in 2008 and the home run for his 3,000th hit in 2011.
But a player known as a winner could go out without a coda: The Yankees may miss the playoffs for just the third time since he first came up to the major leagues in 1995.
“In my opinion, I’ve had the greatest job in the world. I got a chance to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees, and there’s only one of those,” he said. “I always felt as though it was my job — was to try to provide joy and entertainment for you guys. But it can’t compare to what you brought me.”
Yankees teammates, at the suggestion of Chase Headley, stayed in the dugout and allowed Jeter to run to his position alone before “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played on a crisp, sunny afternoon.
While calling it “a day that I’ll remember forever,” Jeter felt “very strange” and “odd” to take in a tribute with 21 games remaining.
“I had to guard against being emotional,” he said. ‘I think my hand was shaking a little bit.”
Jeter embraced Jordan, describing him “like an older brother that I never had.”
Jordan, who played with Jeter in the 1994 Arizona Fall League, praised his pal for surviving New York, where the former basketball star opined “one little hiccup can fry your personality, your persona.”
“He’s maintained doing things the right way, in this time and era that few people take the time to say ‘what if’ before they make a decision,” Jordan said. “He’s made the right decision each and every time.”
Ripken also lauded Jeter’s celebrated composure.
“He’s loved and respected across the league and for good reason,” the retired Baltimore Orioles star said. “He plays the game the right way and handles himself beautifully. And off the field, he’s a true professional.”
There were markings of Jeter’s retirement throughout the ballpark. Instead of team flags showing the standings, a No. 2 logo was flapping above each flagpole. The logo was painted in foul territory on each side, affixed to the left shoulder of each Yankees uniform and also on every cap. When players arrived in the clubhouse, each padded navy chair had a wine bottle with the logo in silver along with the date.
A 30-by-30 banner of Jeter was unveiled in the stadium’s Great Hall. Video messages from athletes and celebrities and even astronauts in space were shown throughout the day, which was proclaimed “Derek Jeter Day” by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The Yankees didn’t retire Jeter’s No. 2 or unveil a plaque in Monument Park, no doubt setting up a Derek Jeter Day 2 at some future time. New York took a similar approach a half-century ago, holding a Mickey Mantle Day in September 1965 before his 2,000th game, then retiring his No. 7 in June 1969 with another ceremony after his playing days.
New York retired former manager Joe Torre’s No. 6 last month, leaving Jeter as the last of the Yankees’ single digits. Torre was among the Hall of Famers on hand, joined by Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Ripken — who blazed a path for the type of modern, offensive shortstop that Jeter became.
There were 34 white chairs lined up across the infield for the invited guests, which also included Jeter’s family, his foundation’s “Jeter’s Leaders” and former teammates Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Hideki Matsui, Tim Raines and Gerald Williams.
Fellow Core Four member Andy Pettitte was absent because of a family obligation.
The ceremony was more modest than the send-off the Yankees gave Rivera last September, when they retired his No. 42 — already retired for all major league teams in honor of Jackie Robinson but grandfathered for the great reliever. Jeter was given five gifts from the team: a message machine, framed patches from All-Star appearances, a 10-day trip to Tuscany, an inscribed crystal with a “2’’ logo and a check for Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation in the amount of $222,222.22.
New York is five years removed from its last title and hasn’t won a postseason game since the night Jeter collapsed on the field with a broken ankle.
“Is it sad he’s retiring? Yes, because it’s the end of an era,” O’Neill said.
Jeter hopes to be back in baseball, but not as a coach, manager or broadcaster.
“He says that he wants to own a team one day,” Rivera explained. “I trust him, and I believe him, and he will. One day he will own a baseball team.”
NOTES: The Royals won on a pair of unearned runs. A throwing error by pitcher Shane Greene (4-3) allowed Josh Willingham to score in the second, and Eric Hosmer hit an RBI single in the third that drove in Alex Gordon, who reached when right fielder Carlos Beltran dropped his easy fly ball. Yordano Ventura (12-3) and three relievers combined on a four-hitter, leaving the Yankees 4 1/2 games out for the second AL wild card.