Jeter retirement marks end of an era for millennials

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By BRIAN HARTNETT
College Contributor Network

For many millennials like myself who are legally adults but have not yet hit the "real world," the end of childhood is marked in several different manners. For some, it's marked by a summer internship or volunteer experience that takes them far out of their comfort zones. For others, it's marked by a hardship that forces them to grow up quickly -- economic troubles or personal struggles.

Still for others, and perhaps these people are the lucky ones, it's marked by the end or loss of something that binds them to childhood. This may come in the conclusion of a popular book or movie series -- see "Harry Potter" and "Toy Story" for examples. It may come in the loss of a childhood icon like Robin Williams. And it may even come in the retirement of an athlete.

I can identify with that third category. I can say that my childhood will unofficially come to an end when Derek Jeter takes the field for what will likely be his final game this upcoming Sunday.
This assertion sounds ludicrous, I know. I don't have Jeter's autograph, and I've never met him, even when I covered the Yankees for a New York City television station this past summer. We have little in common, besides the fact that we were both born in New Jersey.

But Jeter has played a prominent part in my sports fandom. He started playing shortstop in the Bronx when I was 2-year-old and except for a few injuries, hasn't stopped since. When I started following the Yankees in 1999, he was already the face of a franchise in the midst of a dynasty. Like many kids growing up in the New York City area in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my brothers and I always wanted to wear No. 2 and play shortstop.

But why has Jeter inspired such devotion among Yankees fans? After all, the team has had no shortage of superstars in just my lifetime. It comes down to four "C's." Jeter is consistent, clutch, cool and committed.

Despite playing a demanding position, Jeter has played fewer than 148 games in a season only three times in his 20-year career. He's finished in the top-10 in the American League in hits 12 times and in the top-10 in batting average 11 times. He's been an All-Star 14 times. And he's done it without being much of a home run or even a doubles hitter -- he's known for his inside-out swing that drives the ball to right and center field.

Jeter is known as "Captain Clutch" for a reason. He's often been at his best in the postseason, as he holds the major league-record for hits, doubles, runs scored and total bases, among others, in the playoffs.

You could dedicate an entire "Yankeeography" to Jeter's postseason exploits. He's come up clutch when the Yankees needed him most, from his Jeffrey Maier-aided home run in the 1996 American League Championship Series to his "flip" play that kept the Yankees alive in the 2001 postseason to his November home run that lifted a city still in mourning during the World Series of that same year.

As a kid, one metric you probably overemphasize is the "coolness" factor, but regardless of how that metric is measured, Jeter seems to have a lot of it. He's always done seemingly routine things with flair, from diving into the stands to catch a pop-up against the Red Sox to homering at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th career hit.

While many are torn on his overall defensive skills -- he's won five Gold Gloves, but has also been rated as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league by several proponents of sabermetrics - it's hard to deny how smooth his classic backhand-and-throw play looks.

Jeter's "coolness" extends to his off-the-field behavior, which has seen him date many of the top actresses, singers and supermodels of the time. His list of ex-girlfriends includes Mariah Carey, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel and Minka Kelly. Despite all these high-profile relationships, his name has rarely appeared in the tabloids, and he's never had a major scandal, a rarity for any big-name athlete in the social media age.

Finally, Yankee fans love players who stay in the pinstripes for their entire careers -- it's part of the lore that make players like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Mariano Rivers so revered.
In an era where players are swapped frequently and take more lucrative contract offers whenever possible, Jeter is a throwback to the old era of one-team superstars.

Sure, he probably never had a financial incentive to go anywhere else but New York, but Jeter has embraced his role as the face of the franchise ever since he was a skinny young shortstop starring on World Series-winning teams in the late 1990s. Simply put, it would be strange to see him in anything but a Yankees uniform.

And for Yankees fans my age, it will be unsettling and even a bit sad to see anyone but Jeter at shortstop. But those feelings will be displaced by the many great sports memories that Jeter helped create. And for that, my childhood is forever grateful.


Brian Hartnett is a senior at the University of Notre Dame with a major in Marketing and a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Originally from central New Jersey, he's also a fan of the Yankees, Nets and New York Giants. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianGHartnett
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