Derek Jeter was the highlight for his final Opening Day in the Bronx

By Rich Mancuso

 Derek Jeter struck out in the first inning, his final Opening Day at bat in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium. He got cheers, and what else would be more appropriate.  He has been an icon in the once “House of Ruth Built” across the street and at the new stadium since 1996, and cheers will continue until his final at bat in September.

Except, Jeter is one to not take the accolades for himself and as he said again early Monday, this is not about him. It’s about his teammates and the Yankees winning another championship. And the goal for these Yankees is to win one more this season for the Captain as Jeter wears the pinstripes for a final time.

“It’s pretty much like every opening day,” said Jeter. He said the fans always treated him with respect, they get excited and it is a big deal in New York.

He said there have been a lot of wild moments, and enjoyed each and every day in the Bronx. The fans have been special. They always knew Jeter had a priority when he took the field in the Bronx. They saw that in October of 2012, the night when his season ended abruptly against the Tigers in the American League Championship Series.

Jeter struggled to get up. The pain was etched in his face, but a broken ankle prevented the Yankees Captain from leaving the field on his own. The Manager Joe Girardi had to help Jeter off the field.

So, when the player introduction commenced, there was Derek Jeter. In the Yankees dugout, and just like every Opening Day he was nervous. It is part of being a ballplayer. The nerves will flow opening the home season, except this one was extra special.

“I think I’m curious how he’s going to handle it,” said Girardi before the first pitch. “Something like today, or the last time in a city maybe, I’m curious to see how he handles that. I’m sure he’ll take a moment to reflect on that but will it be visible that he’s reflecting on it?”

See, Derek Jeter has always been one to reflect on things, especially his marvelous career. But he never made it known how he felt. His teammates over the years have said, Jeter keeps it all inside, and perhaps that’s what made him so special. After all, this is New York. The spotlight and center of attention of the New York Yankees, that being Derek Jeter, is not supposed to have hidden feelings.

This is New York, and when you play here the entire world is tuned in.

"I think people are going to show him the appreciation no matter what happens just because of what he's meant,” said Girardi.  “You think about his rings, his World Series, All-Star Games, everything he's done and the way he's played the game, I don't think his stats will have a very big impact on how they show appreciation.”

“But the stats might have an impact on people letting him go away after this season in a sense. If he has a season like we know he's capable of, people are going to say 'why aren't you going to keep playing?'"

 Jeter now has the most hits for a right-handed batter in American League history. He led off the bottom of the fifth with a double that almost cleared the leftfield wall for a home run.  New teammate, Jacoby Ellsbury, followed with a run scoring single that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead over the Orioles.

It was a typical Jeter swing. His head slide into second, something he could not do last year, showing no effects of an injury that kept him away from an opening day in the Bronx last year.

“I've always said that Yankees fans are the greatest fans in the world,” commented Jeter. “That is no disrespect to any other team or any other sport. That's just how I feel."

And with the “Core Four” together one more time, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, Jeter heard more of the ovations from a capacity crowd. He spent so much time in pinstripes, had those wonderful moments in the Bronx and there is no telling how many more of those moments will occur from now until late September.

For now, the Yankees and their fans will relish these final moments. It is a love affair that will never go away. Opening Day in the Bronx will just have to be a little different next April with Derek Jeter as a special guest at Yankee Stadium.

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