Thank You, Derek

May 15 2017
Photo by
Kathy Willens/AP Images

This past weekend, the New York Yankees retired Derek Jeter’s number 2 jersey before a packed house in the Bronx. To honor and celebrate the occasion, five current major leaguers share their favorite stories about The Captain, discussing the ways he set the standard with his love and Re2pect for the game. They also talk about how Derek has influenced them in their pursuit of greatness both on and off the baseball field.

CC Sabathia, Pitcher, New York Yankees

Jordan Brand

I could heap a bunch of praise on Derek, but what all of it boils down to is that he’s just a good guy.

That’s been true from the first time I met him at the 2003 All-Star Game. What surprised me most about that interaction was that not only did he know who I was, but that he also took his time to get to know me better. That was one of the coolest moments of my young career. Nothing about him was manufactured —he was just so genuine in how he engaged me. And as I’ve gotten to know him better over the years, he’s stayed the same person.

Man, Jeets is a supercool guy in so many respects … except when it comes to keeping up with pop culture. He’s, uh, always been a bit behind in that department. Like he’ll hear a song six months after it comes out and then call me really excited like, “Yo CC! You heard this song?” He’ll be all hyped like he’s uncovered this hidden gem, and I’ll be like, “Yeah man, I heard that eight months ago. Where you been?”

For real, for one entire season — and I mean an entire season — he requested we play the same Lil Wayne song in the locker room before games. And this was a year after it came out.

But it was new to him.

So young guys would walk in and be like, “Why are we playing this old-ass song?”

I’d say, “It’s not me, fam. Jeets wants it on.”

And that was it. No more questions. That was all they needed to hear.

That’s kind of the point. Derek Jeter doesn’t need to know what’s cool at any given moment. It’s cool because he likes it.

Derek’s deservingly having his number retired by the Yankees, but his influence has spread so much further than just one franchise. In my mind, that’s why the term Re2pect perfectly encapsulates his career.

I’ll give you an example: One time, a few years back, I watched him sit Adam Jones down and talk with him about running the bases hard. That was a guy we competed against in our division, but to Jeets that didn’t matter. It was about making the game better. That was the goal.

You watch Adam Jones today and he’s one of the hardest base runners in the league. And recently, he came over and sat Aaron Hicks down to talk with him about running the bases hard.

That’s what it’s all about. That’s Re2pect.

Manny Machado, Third Baseman, Baltimore Orioles

Jordan Brand

The first time I met Derek Jeter was in the middle of a game. We were playing the Yankees in Baltimore and I hit a double. When I got to second base, Jeter came over to me.

“Wassup, Manny?” he said How’s everything?”

Now, I wasn’t really surprised. Guys always talk to you when you get on base. You know, typical small talk to kill time between pitches.

But then he asked, “How’s everything at home? How’s your family?”

It kind of caught me off guard. Like I said, it was the first time I was ever really meeting him. So it surprised me a little that he was asking something a little more personal, not just making the same old small talk.

But Derek Jeter always did everything a little different.

I remember watching the game against the Red Sox when he dove into the stands — the catch that everybody remembers. But it’s not really the catch itself that stands out to me. I remember him for how he played every play with the kind of energy and sacrifice and hustle that he showed on that play. Every time he hit a ground ball, he sprinted to first. When he hit a fly ball, he hustled around the bases. He never took a play off. He played the game how it’s supposed to be played.

So, when it comes down to it, I really shouldn’t have been so surprised in the first place when he asked me about my family and how things were going at home. It’s just a testament to the kind of person he is. He respects the game so much, and part of that respect is caring about the next generation, both as ballplayers and as people. He always did everything the right way, he supported his teammates and, above everything else, he always wanted to win. Those are the kinds of things younger players can learn from.

But back to that day at second base….

When Jeter asked me how everything was going at home and how my family was, and I didn’t really know how to respond. So I just said, “Uhh … everything’s good.”

He said something like, “That’s great. I’m happy to hear that.”

Remember, I was a 20-year-old rookie when this happened. It was a pretty cool moment that I’ll never forget. And even though it was a small gesture, it taught me a lot about the kind of person Derek Jeter is.

It also gave me a better idea of the kind of person and player I wanted to become.

Dellin Betances, Pitcher, New York Yankees

Jordan Brand

When I was a kid growing up in New York, I was all about the Yankees.

This was the mid- to late-’90s, and it was World Series title after World Series title. Those teams were just flat-out winners.

And the biggest winner of them all was Derek Jeter.

I’d go to Yankee Stadium with my family and just be in awe of the things he did. Derek was always so clutch. Always! He seemed to come through in every big game.

Back in the day, I often dreamt about how things would turn out for me, but I never could have imagined what was in store. When the Yankees drafted me in 2006, the team brought me to the stadium to watch BP before a game. I was blown away by my surroundings and was just kind of taking everything in, when I got a tap on my shoulder.

It was Jeets.

He was the first guy to come up and welcome me.

“We’re so happy to have you as part of the family,” he said. That made me feel so valued, so special. “Keep putting in that work, because I want to see you out on this field very soon.”

I’ll never forget that moment.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “I will.”

And then I went about doing exactly what he said. I wanted more than anything to show him that I could make it, and to play on the same field as him.

Fast-forward to my first full season in the majors, in 2014, Derek’s final year. I watched him like a hawk that season and took mental notes. I saw how he carried himself, the ways he led our team, and how he never seemed fazed by anything. Even after just being around him for a couple of days, and seeing him do his thing, I understood what the Re2pect concept was all about. When I think of Derek Jeter, that’s the word I think about. Everything he did was geared toward being great, and toward reaching a level of excellence day in and day out. When you’re around a guy like him it’s impossible for that not to rub off on you. And I feel fortunate to have taken in some of those traits from Derek, so that I can pass them down to the young guys coming up now.

Mookie Betts, Rightfielder, Boston Red Sox

Jordan Brand

Five World Series rings, 3000-plus hits, the fame, the fortune and playing for the second most historic franchise in baseball….

These are just some of the reasons kids would always say they want to grow up to be just like Derek Jeter. But I didn’t grow up watching much baseball. There wasn’t a favorite team or player in the Betts household. I played baseball, day in, day out, and learned the game my own way alongside my parents – Willie and Diana.

And that’s why, when I started watching more baseball after being drafted, I was drawn to the legacy Derek had created for himself.

But it wasn’t Derek’s winning ways or Hall of Fame career that grabbed my attention. It was something even bigger.

Derek laid out the blueprint for young men to enter this game with class, dignity and professionalism, and to demand respect as a person, player and brand….

And I took notice.

When I debuted in 2014, Derek’s final season, I immediately circled Sept. 2628, Derek’s final series, on our schedule. As my career and legacy were just beginning, I felt it was only fitting to fly my family in and show Re2pect to the individual who motivated me to become the best, most real version of Mookie Betts.

Derek, congratulations on cementing your place in Monument Park. You taught me that we all have the ability to leave our own unique legacies, and your legacy will live on forever as generations to come leave their own. If I can promote individualism to the next generation half as well as you did, I’ll be a happy man. On that note….

Go Red Sox!

Dexter Fowler, Centerfielder, St. Louis Cardinals

Jordan Brand

Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. It’s like the universe just aligns, and you catch a break.

On the night that Derek Jeter played his final game at Yankee Stadium, I was lucky enough to be in New York City. I was with the Astros at the time, and we were about to start a series in Queens with the Mets. So it was our off day.

When our team arrived in the city that afternoon, I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to go to that game. No doubt. Had to!

And boy am I glad that I did.

I’ll remember that night for the rest of my life.

I was there as a fan. And to see him hit get that walk-off hit….

It gave me the chills. I can still picture him running up the first base line, and then just raising his hands high in the air and getting mobbed by his teammates. I get chills to this day thinking about the moment.

But, really, that was just typical Derek Jeter. I’m not going to say it was something that I expected — because you’d never expect something that dramatic. But I’m also not going to say that I was surprised in any way.

The guy’s a winner. His will to win was second to none.

And us younger guys, we always saw that. He always had this presence, both on an off the field. He carried himself the right way at all times, and that’s why so many people see him as a role model.

Not just anyone is going to get the nickname “The Captain.”

He worked hard to become a player and a person who earned that name — and the respect that went along with it. He always represented the game of baseball in the best way possible. And now it’s time for us younger guys to step up and carry on the high standards Derek set. We take that responsibility seriously. We understand the importance of advancing the Re2pect legacy of excellence, both on and off the field. There will never be another Derek Jeter, but the traits and qualities that made him special are things that I hope to pass down to younger players throughout the remainder of my career.