By NEIL DWYER
College Contributor Network
On the final day of the 2003 season, I was a 10-year-old autograph hound along the first base side of the old Yankee Stadium. Nick Johnson was parading down signing for kids but went back to stretching a couple kids away from where I stood.
So, like any child of the '90s, I started desperately seeking Derek Jeter's attention, calling his name louder and louder until finally he came over.
"Listen kid, you saw it rained earlier right?"
"Well I gotta get my stretches in because of the delay. If I have time later, I'll come back over, alright?"
Now, it also didn't help that by calling Jeter's name over and over, I also attracted the attention of 20 other bigger and more obnoxious kids that probably scared Jeter off a little bit.
I'll be honest, as the years went by, I thought about that day and I resented Jeter for not coming back over to sign whatever I had. I resented him again four years later when he snubbed a whole group of us at spring training. He didn't even look in our direction, but Alex Rodriguez sure did.
He signed a ball for me; I became a fan of his after that -- so much so that I openly defended his right to be heard and to face Bud Selig while being investigated during the Biogenesis crisis. I thought Jeter to be rude and standoffish -- more concerned with that crystal-clear image and almost OCD-fixation on winning the World Series every single year, instead of enjoying and going with the up and down pace of a baseball season. He always had that look after an exciting walk-off win that translated into just another win.
As I got older, though, while I still resented that kind of attitude, I began to appreciate the asset we had here in the game of baseball and among the shark-infested newsprint pools of the New York media.
I appreciated the hustle and grind he put into each at-bat.
I appreciated the fact that he was never ejected from a ball game ONCE in a 20-year career.
I appreciated that in a world where posers carrying their smartphones everywhere, ready to post any type of video to their blogs (that get about as much traffic as a dirt road in the Smokies) of a famous person acting politically incorrect, that Jeter was constantly able to act as some sort of role model.
In a sport whose core has been chewed and swallowed over and over since the strike of '94, in a sports culture that's grown increasingly violent and overhyped, that there's been one constant. That being a shortstop that came of age in the '90s and retired in a socially distant universe, who brought the values that our grandparents lived on through the Depression and World War II.
Always on time, always grinding, always working.
P.S. Years later, I realized I never had a pen for Jeter to sign anything with that day.
Neil Dwyer is a senior at the University of Miami who loves the Yankees, Giants, 'Canes and screaming about all three. Follow him on Twitter: @neildwyer1993
By NEIL DWYER