Saturday, July 9, 2011

Derek Jeter Reaches Incredible Milestone, Now Worthy of Hall Pass

It’s too much of a tale hardly seen in a sport obsessed with numbers. It’s too much of a good thing to witness an incredible milestone, particularly when Yankees star Derek Jeter delivers and captures an all-time record at baseball’s colossal palace.

The man of great humanity sends positive vibes along with the notion that he’s not only an exalted icon but also one of the best players to ever play the game. As he’s the face of baseball, hardly disregarded in the shadows of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle, fans feel a deep sense of jubilation. The time couldn’t be better for a delightful moment in baseball, as the game is ailing from scandals and the steroid era.

But it all seems erasable for the Yankees and Jeter, whose power at the plate Saturday afternoon made fans believe that baseball is not tattered from banned substances in the last decade. And of course these days, Jeter is either loved or loathed. It is maybe because he wears a pinstriped uniform and plays for one of the most pompous sports franchises that is worthy of a postseason bid and World Series each season.

Although the Yankees are despised mostly because of their overexposure, arrogance and sense of entitlement, this is a well-honorable milestone. Jeter amassed his 3,000th hit with a home run he deposited into the left-field seats off Tampa Bay ace David Price in the third inning at Yankee Stadium. It seems abundantly clear that it was the biggest hit of his accomplished career, an individual accolade too many players fall short of reaching. And so he reached a pinnacle and cemented a legacy, capping a perfect 5-for-5 day with the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth to lead the Yankees to a 5-4 win over the Rays.

It’s time to acknowledge that he is a role model for many children who adore and imitate a modest individual and a star on the field. I think that, in hindsight, he’s the greatest player in Yankees history, widely recognized as a celebrity in New York, where he has enriched his remarkable career. So there’s a national mandate that we’re not allowed to praise Jeter, and that we should strongly hate him because he’s playing for an organization that everybody loves to hate.

The Yankees are ridiculed for spending unwisely, which has led to high-priced failure. Jeter is mocked for being a five-time winner with the Yanks. It’s not so much that people have animosity toward Jeter. It’s not so much that people berate him for donning a Yankees cap. It’s because he’s reached a plateau and became one of the cleanest hitters in baseball.

This is a breathtaking achievement to abate much stupidity and criticism aimed directly at the Yankees. We can be kind and admit that Jeter has compiled more hits than any of the great studs that have ever played for this storied franchise. This isn’t a matter of trying to figure out whether or not Jeter belongs in the Hall of Fame. There’s nobody who deserves a spot more than Jeter rightfully so. If there are folks who dislike Jeter, it’s clearly because they are envious and bitter, if not downright ignorant.

He has handled heavy burdens that came his way – and eventually — as Jeter emerged as baseball’s phenom when he first entered the league, he trained hard and nourished his body to achieve greatness. And in his late 30s, Jeter remains as impressive as he was when he blossomed into an impactful rookie in ’96 to help build somewhat of a dynasty in the late 90s and in the early era of the 21st century.

There’s very little reason to dislike Jeter, a natural hitter who changed the culture with his swing, the way he fields, the way he makes his off-balanced throws and his level of humility. As it all remains the same, Jeter, amazingly, is at the epicenter of baseball royalty, grabbing national attention on the day he went beyond all expectations by drilling a homer to become the 28th player in major league history to reach a vintage 3,000 hit milestone.

This is an achievement worth celebrating. For all of Jeter’s success, he is an All-Star and a player who appears to be a purest. He earned his first All-Star bid in 1998, hit a career-high .349 in 1999 and reached 2,000 career hits in 2006. To some, he is a pretty boy and an arrogant scumbag, but in reality, Jeter is a stellar hitter and an amazing player.

If nothing else, Jeter is underrated and should be anointed as America’s captain. He’s an influential, productive shortstop who became a legend before our very eyes. And as a specimen, he is one of the five greatest shortstops ever. More amazingly, he is a Hollywood celebrity. He hosted Saturday Night Live, appeared in commercial ads and has endorsed numerous products only to gain popularity.

He smashed a home run for a career hit No. 3,000, and showed doubters in such a dramatic fashion that he’s been unfairly disrespected after playing so brilliantly. There hasn’t been a shortstop that appeared in more games for one team or produced more hits while playing the position.

Better than advertised, he is Captain 3000 and has mastered all his accomplishments on the field by the way he lives off the field. If there’s any player clean in his era, despite all the doping revelations, it’s Jeter. For all the talk about this being the dirtiest era, Jeter has stayed clean, as it has been difficult to avoid a steroid crisis.

What’s so wonderful about Jeter is his longevity, leadership, intangibles and greatness. There is a place for Jeter in Cooperstown. Give him a Hall Pass, although he has never been a slugger but a ground-ball hitter who connected on pitches and laced hits into the field to drive in runs. There’s no doubt in our minds that he is extraordinary and will go down as the best player in Yankees history.

Welcome to the 3,000-hit club, Jeter.