11/08/09 10:08 AM EST
For Jeter, the ring is the important thing
Captain places championships ahead of individual glory
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
"Did you see Jeter and the boys?" the commuter asked.
The boy grinned and nodded.
Jeter and the boys -- a fitting description for Derek Jeter and his Yankees, the newest champions of New York City. More than Jorge Posada or Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte, all of whom have also won five titles with the Yankees, Jeter is the face and soul of the Yankees. There is a reason he was the player chosen to speak at City Hall alongside manager Joe Girardi, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In some ways, Jeter has more influence than all of them.
He's not the type to flaunt it, of course, but Jeter remains at the top of his game both on the field and in the city. Leading off for the Yankees all season, Jeter produced one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career, batting .334 with 18 homers, 107 runs scored and 30 stolen bases and entering his name into MVP discussions.
He also reached base in all 15 of the Yankees' postseason games, batting .344 in the playoffs and .407 in the World Series.
Off the field, meanwhile, Jeter has maintained his status as an A-list New York celebrity, with fans hanging on to his every word.
"It's been too long, hasn't it?" Jeter asked the crowd at City Hall on Friday -- and those six words were all he needed to send a few hundred thousand nearby fans into chaos.
"You feel like you're the president, you know?" Jeter said. "You wish you could thank every single fan individually, but you can't. I know they know we appreciate it."
They always do seem to appreciate a winner, and Jeter's fifth title only helped to further his legend. Not only did Jeter win the World Series in 1996 and 2009, at the ages of 22 and 35, respectively, but he did so as one of the major contributors on both clubs. Now well into his mid-30s, Jeter has not endured even a minor dip to the production levels he established last decade as a 20-something prodigy.
He'll tell you he is just one piece in a team concept, the type that hasn't changed much in the 13 years between Jeter's first championship and this one. But there's something remarkable about a player who can win as a rookie with one cast of teammates, then again as a veteran with an almost entirely different group of players.
"It crosses your mind, because every year you know guys can't come back," Jeter said during the ticker-tape parade. "Some guys are retiring, some guys are moving on. You get a chance to reflect and look at everybody together as one group. We have a lot of memories together."
Count a World Series title among them. For some Yankees, including veterans such as Alex Rodriguez and Jerry Hairston Jr., this was their first championship. For Jeter, it was his fifth.
It's a fact that is not lost on him as he enters the latter stages of his career. When all is said and done, Jeter will likely finish with more than 3,000 hits, 300 homers and 2,000 runs scored. He will likely complete his career with a lifetime average above .300. And yet those are not the things for which fans will remember him.
Instead, they will remember him for his rings -- now five of them and counting. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"It feels good," Jeter said, referring to the fans who flowed out to greet him and his teammates at the ticker-tape parade. "This makes it all worthwhile."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.