One of the special qualities of big league baseball is the reverence the game shows for its legends.
On Wednesday night, one of the biggest stars the game has seen in decades made his farewell appearance in the state of Texas. Yankees great Derek Jeter, who will retire at the end of this, his 20th season, played his final game at Globe Life Park and a sold-out crowd of 46,599 gave him a Texas-sized hat tip.
For the occasion, the Texas Rangers called upon a heavy hitter from the area: former President George W. Bush to help honor Jeter, a five-time World Series champion who needs just nine more hits to move into sixth place all-time in major league history. The names before and after him on the list are all Hall of Famers.
The stadium erupted for Jeter, 40, when he was introduced and joined former Rangers All-Stars Michael Young and Pudge Rodriguez near home plate during a pregame ceremony.
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Jeter was presented with a donation from the Rangers for $10,000 to his Turn 2 Foundation. He also received a pair of custom-made Lucchese Italian goat-leather cowboy boots stitched with his name and the Yankees’ logo, and his No. 2.
Then, Jeter and the crowd were directed to the video board to watch a brief highlight of Bush’s historic first pitch before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The president and Jeter met before his first pitch that night, with Jeter reminding Bush to not throw it in the dirt or he’d get booed.
At the conclusion of the video, Bush was introduced, surprising Jeter with a signed photo taken that night at Yankee Stadium.
“I heard he was coming to the stadium but I didn’t know he was coming out on the field so that’s a pretty special feeling when you have a president come out to give you something to honor you,” said Jeter after the game. “That’s definitely a memory I’ll have for a long time and be able to brag to a lot of different people.”
Jeter went 0 for 4 in the game, but received a nice ovation from fans after popping out to first in his final at-bat. The Rangers, by the way, won the game 3-2 to take their first series since June 27-29.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said fans showed the respect that Jeter deserved.
“It’s showing respect to Derek in return for the respect he’s given to the game,” Washington said before the game. “This is just another organization and another city just showing respect for what he has given to the fans and the game of baseball and I think that will touch his heart.”
Young, who became close with Jeter during his career, said No. 2’s competitiveness is what set him apart.
“From a competitive standpoint, the guy is off the charts,” Young said. “He stayed his entire career at one place, a very demanding place. He’s very widely respected by his peers and the fans and every organization in the game.”
The ceremony, although not unique to baseball, and one that Jeter has enjoyed at all his stops this season, showed the power the game has on the country, and the video tribute of that important pitch from Bush in 2001 reflects that sentiment.
“You have to have a pretty special guy in order to have a ceremony like that,” Young said. “In a lot of ways, Derek is kind of a cultural icon in this country, not just a Hall of Fame baseball player. It’s a very unique thing and knowing Derek, he doesn’t take it for granted.”
The moment moved Jeter.
“It’s a gift within itself,” he said. “Not too many people can say they’ve had the president come out and honor them during a ceremony. It meant a lot to me.”