As children, we idolized the individuals we grew up with on our televisions. Michael Jordan was the epitome of basketball, winning the Most Valuable Player award five times and leading the Chicago Bulls to the NBA championship six times during the 1990s. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, starring Will Smith, was the hippest sitcom out there and gave us life lessons we still use today. And of course, Derek Jeter was in the process of making a name for himself with the New York Yankees.

It’s incredibly difficult to look back on this decade and reminisce on the exuberance these individuals and TV programs brought to our impressionable lives. They represented an escape from the genocide in Rwanda and the first Gulf War, even though our fragile minds were not quite developed enough to understand the gravity of these situations. However, when these people went away, they left a void in our lives, leaving us to find the next great thing.

Saying goodbye to Derek Jeter last week is difficult for any baseball fan, even for you Red Sox fanatics out there. Jeter helped define the game with a persona reflecting respect. Considering he played for nearly 20 years, it’s unusual for any player to be a part of only one team. And that shows the type of dedication Jeter played with.

I grew up a Yankees fanatic. Curtains embroidered with the Yankees logo hung from curtain rods with baseballs at each end. My bed sheets had pinstripes on them and Yankees memorabilia littered the walls. American families welcomed names like Jeter, Rivera and Rodriguez into their homes, and the Yankees quickly became the team to watch in baseball.

However, greats don’t last forever. They’re mortal just like us, and watching them leave is just as painful as mourning the death of a loved one. Even though they haven’t left the earth, they have left our lives. Channel-surfing becomes habitual, and we find ourselves trying to find a replacement. But is the replacement ever better than the original?

When Michael Jordan retired from the NBA in 1994, wanting to pursue a career in baseball, fans thought they’d never see him wear No. 23 ever again. He returned four years later wearing No. 45, retiring for the last time with the Washington Wizards in 2003. Numbers leave players with a legacy. When the number 23 appears in popular culture, our minds automatically associate it with Jordan’s dominance in the NBA. Similarly, No. 2 belongs to Jeter, and he deserves that recognition.

With 260 homeruns and 3,465 hits, the Yankees shortstop made sure the sports world knew his name during each of his 11,195 at-bats throughout his 20 years with the Yankees. How could anybody forget with numbers like that?

His final at-bat was filled with symbolism last week. For one, the game was played against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Yankees’ behind enemy lines. The count was 1-2 when Jeter chopped the ball to the third baseman — he had dropped it. Yankees manager Joe Girardi looked to Jeter and asked if he wanted to sit out the rest of the game. Jeter nodded with satisfaction on his face.

Hearing virtually every single spectator at Fenway chant “Thank you, Jeter” was something surprising, yet admirable.
Red Sox fans knew what he had done for the game. Now that’s “Re2pect.”

In a Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Jeter said, “I’ve had them [Red Sox fans] stand and say some things, but it was never an ovation.”

Now that Jeter is retired, he has been spotted on coffee dates with super model girlfriend Hannah Davis with what seems like an engagement ring on her finger. Jeter has also announced that his next retirement venture besides marriage is the Player’s Tribune, a unique website that allows athletes to provide intimate access into their lives, ultimately eliminating the role of media.

This again shows how much Jeter cares about and appreciates his fans. Even though he gave every sports fan what they could’ve asked for, he still wants to give more.

Even though it may seem that our favorite childhood heroes are out of the picture, they are not gone forever. Individuals as passionate as Jeter will continue to contribute to the sports industry. Because of this, I thank you, Derek.

Email Chris Burek at opinions@cardinalpointsonline.com.

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