Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Derek Jeter and Marcus Mariota

In a year full of highlights – my Mother’s 90th birthday, Sophia entering college, the Oregon Ducks winning football season, the best highlight of all was unquestionably my wife’s birthday present for me. I got to see Derek Jeter’s last home game at Yankee Stadium.

derek-jeter3I have been a Yankee fan my entire life. I have thrilled at players such as Bobby Richardson, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly. But for the last 20 years, I followed Jeter more closely than any other Yankee, checking his box score religiously every day.

It wasn’t just how well he played on the field; it was how well he conducted himself on and off the field that impressed me. For me, Jeter became a role model of how to handle success and disappointment.

Thanks to Carole, I was able to witness Jeter get a signature single to right field to win his final game and crouch for the last time at shortstop, which Jeter called the place with the finest view of New York. It was a storybook ending to a Hall of Fame career. It almost was a story with an incomplete ending.

Carole and I also had tickets to the next-to-last game, played the previous afternoon. Chilly winds made it a three hot chocolate game. But the winds foreshadowed something worse – drenching rains the following day.

The rains came and threatened to cancel Jeter’s final hour on the field. We weighed whether to bother going to the Stadium as rainfall continued into early evening. Carole said we should risk it, and we did.

Respect T-shirtBy the time we arrived at Yankee Stadium by train, the rain had stopped. The Yankees and Orioles were on the field ready to play. We sat down just as the first pitch was thrown.

The Yankees played well and entered the 9th inning with a solid lead. Closer David Robertson, usually lights out, was lit up. Suddenly the game was tied. Then the storybook game took on a fairy tale ending. And we saw it unfold, chanting DE-REK JE-TER along with the thousands of other fans who wearing their Jeter jerseys just like us.

After the winning hit by the hometown hero, Jeter gave a short speech and made his final jog as a player to shortstop. He lingered a long time out there, but no one cared. Nobody wanted to see that sparkling moment end. Nobody wanted to leave.

When we finally began to exit, Carole and I stopped at one of the stalls so I could buy a T-shirt that spelled RE2PECT, the one word that somehow captured what fans in the stadium and everywhere felt about Jeter.

marcus-mariota-oregon-vs-oregon-state-football-heisman-poseThat fall day in New York gave way to many more fall days in Oregon as the college football season began. Carole and I punctuated our Saturdays watching the Oregon Ducks, led by a Hawaiian-born quarterback named Marcus Mariota. In many ways, Mariota mirrored the calm and confidence of Jeter. His demeanor on and off the field exuded quiet leadership, just like Jeter.

The comparison between Mariota, the football player, and Jeter, the baseball player, struck home when Mariota went to New York and was awarded the Heisman Trophy, signifying the best college player in 2014. His modesty in accepting the award, his praise for family and teammates, reflected a Jeter-esque quality. When Mariota hugged his father, it was just like Jeter hugging his father.

There will be more great Yankee players and more great Ducks. I suspect there never will be a season that was as gratifying and heartwarming as 2014. Jeter and Mariota made it so.

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