With the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays playing a winner-take-all game Friday night to advance to the league championship series against the Houston Astros, is there anyone among the Yankees who has a Derek Jeter moment in him to commemorate one of the first, if not the first, milestone event in the career of the Hall of Fame shortstop and team captain?
If you are a baseball fan, a Yankees fan, and especially a Derek Jeter fan, you’d know that Friday night is the 24th anniversary of Jeter’s imprint on Yankee history. With the Yankees trailing the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium in the first game of their best-of-seven playoff series, Jeter’s seemingly innocuous fly ball to right field should have been caught by Tony Tarasco at the base of the right field wall.
Instead, 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out with his glove and deflected the ball. The ruling on the field awarded Jeter a game-tying home run. The Yanks went on to win the game in extra innings. Jeter’s magical moment started the team on its trek to renewed glory. After not winning a championship since 1978, the Yankees under manager Joe Torre won the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Back when they won it all in 1977-1978 and then in the Torre-Jeter glory years, owner George Steinbrenner spent lavishly to put the best team money could buy on the field. His sons (Hal and the recently deceased Hank) have been more circumspect about spending, but this year the bankroll loosened up. The Yankees signed pitcher Gerrit Cole to a record nine year contract. He rewarded them with a win in game one of the series against the Rays. On just three days rest, instead of his normal four days off, he will be expected to produce another postseason payroll dividend Friday tonight. Will he rise to the Jeter moment?
Giancarlo Stanton is another high-priced player. He just missed a home run Thursday night that would have tied him for the record of six home runs in six consecutive games. Oh well, he will have to settle for five in a row. Can he begin another streak Friday night?
If you think I’m going to make my way through the rest of the lineup, you’re wrong. Just as Jeter was a rookie in 1996 on a team with bigger stars, a Jeter moment could be attained by anyone. Let’s see who rises to the occasion.
Instead, my memory of the Jeter-Maier home run goes back to where I was that fateful evening. I was not at home watching play unfold. I was in Middlebury, IN, addressing a sales meeting of the Syndicate Glass Co. It was the last place my boss, John, and I wanted to be as we were and still are big Yankees fans. But Syndicate was a longtime advertiser and had requested a market presentation to enhance its salespeople’s understanding of the retail market.
As we awaited our turn during their sales meeting, John and I alternated sneaking out to get updates on the baseball game. As I began my talk the Orioles were leading 3-2 after 3-1/2 innings.
My standard presentation lasted from 45 to 60 minutes with another 15 or more minutes for questions. I was motoring along as fast as I could so we could get back to the game when a salesman asked how the cost of labor was impacting retailers and their suppliers.
I turned to Lenny, Syndicate’s president, and matter of factly asked how many people worked in his manufacturing plant.
“About half,” he deadpanned back. For a moment, what I now classify as a Jeter moment, there was silence, then uproarious laughter from his staff.
Lenny had ad-libbed his response, but from then on I planted that gag whenever I talked before an industry group.
You never know from whence inspiration or a magical moment will come. I’m hoping at least one Yankee channels an inner Jeter moment to secure a victory. The timing could not be more perfect.