The classiest and hardest playing Yankee is hanging up his cleats. In his last at-bat at the Stadium ("Yankee Stadium" is redundant), he did what Jeter always seemed to do: come through in the clutch. In this case, he got the game-winning hit.
Before I continue, I have to say I've never been a Yankee fan. Born in New York City, I leaned to hate the Bronx Bums at young age. Despite my mom being a Bronx-born Yankee fan, my uncle "brainwashed" his daughter and I to be Mets fans, taking us to see the 120-game loosing 1962 team in the Polo Grounds. Of course, they lost.
But even a 120-game loosing team that wasn't the Yankees was a good thing, so we routed for them year after loosing year. Later I would move to Boston, where Red Sox fans shared the true hatred of the Yankees that I learned. While I wanted the Mets in '86 to win in 7 (and they did, following Mookie Wilson's most famous at-bat), I eventually transitioned to being a Sox fan.
I still feel the classic Sox-Yanks rivalry was at its peak in the 2003 and 2004 season. Both teams had great lineups where anyone from leadoff to 9th could take it out of the park. Add some great pitching on either side, and there were many memorable games.
What I remember from the 2003 playoffs is the game where Pedro maybe stayed on the mound too long. Late in the game, with the Sox ahead by a run or two, I recall Jeter coming up to bat. No one on base. But there was that gleam in his eye. The gleam of hope. The gleam that says "I think I can do something here."
Problem was, we know Jeter was a clutch hitter. He didn't hit for batting average. He didn't hit to win the game in one swing (although he could at times). He just tried to do something. Something to shift the balance of the game, to shift the momentum just enough. Just enough to give the pitcher a little something else to think about. Just enough so he might loose a bit of focus so that he might give the next batter something to hit. Before you knew it, a run or two would score, and you lead was gone.
He had that inside-out swing the could just barely lift the ball just over the head of the shortstop or second baseman and then drop dead in the outfield just enough so that now you have Jeter on 1st, no one out, and that gleam is still in his eye.
In the 7th game of the 2003 playoffs, Jeter is up in the 8th with the Sox up 5-2. Mr. Clutch got a double. It was a 3-run inning and the game went into extra innings. And you guessed it, the Yanks won. Jeter and the gleam in his eye shifted the momentum. And that's all it took.
Although I can never admit liking Jeter, I can say that I respect him. For his class, for the effort he always showed. For being more about the clutch hit than average or other stats.
Jeter was our opponent. But we have learned to respect him for his integrity. May he enjoy his retirement.