His glove never departed his left hand, and the ovation never slackened. The fans at Target Field clapped their hands and craned their necks toward the stadium’s video screens, watching Derek Jeter extend hugs to every fellow All-Star in the American League dugout. When Jeter finished saluting his teammates, he would receive their adulation.
He did not want his presence to distract from this annual spectacle. But his résumé and his place within the game’s hierarchy demanded otherwise.
At last he stood alone at the base of the stairs leading back onto the diamond. What followed was both predictable and poignant. Jeter had already cracked a pair of hits, scored a run and sprawled to secure a ground ball. One more standing ovation from a crowd of 41,084 and dozens more inside the dugouts were added to his ledger.
Boston manager John Farrell engineered the moment in the top of the fourth inning of the American League’s 5-3 victory in the 85th edition of the midsummer classic. He called upon Chicago shortstop Alexei Ramirez as a replacement for the 14-time All Star playing in his 20th and final season. Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” washed over the park as Jeter exited.
“It was a wonderful moment that I’m always going to remember,” Jeter said, a scenario that felt “unscripted.”
The storybook sentiment soured before Jeter even had a chance to leave the diamond. Adam Wainwright, the St. Louis ace and the National League’s starting pitcher, admitted to teeing up fastballs for Jeter in their first-inning encounter.
“I was going to give him a couple pipe shots,” Wainwright said after pitching his inning. “He deserved it. I didn’t know he was going to hit a double, or I might have changed my mind.”
Asked about the brouhaha later, Jeter was sheepish but magnanimous. “If he grooved it, then, thank you,” he said. “You still have to hit it.”
Wainwright would later backtrack and insist his attempt at humor was misconstrued. Either way, it was a reminder of Jeter’s affect on his peers as he heads into his career’s twilight.
At 40, Jeter is lagging through the worst offensive season of his career. Yet he still transforms All-Stars into adolescents seeking ways to commemorate their interactions. Royals closer Greg Holland approached seeking an autographed baseball on Monday afternoon.
“I don’t want to bother you,” Holland said.
“No problem,” Jeter said. “No problem.”
Holland was the only Royal to directly beseech Jeter. Salvador Perez handed a clubhouse attendant a bat, a ball and a jersey for Jeter to sign. Alex Gordon did not even bother. Earlier in the season, he had received a signed jersey from Jeter. He plans to frame it and hang it in his basement, next to jerseys from retired players including George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt and Ken Griffey, Jr.
“All the guys I play with, I figure I’ll get a baseball or something,” Gordon said. “A jersey is something special. He was one of them that deserves it, I think.”
The three Royals dressed near Jeter in the far corner of the American League clubhouse Tuesday. But they could not even place eyes on him in his time in the room. A swarm of reporters swarmed three-deep around him.
“I think he’s tired,” Perez said.
“Jeter?” Gordon said. “Tired of talking. That’s probably everywhere he goes, too.”
When Jeter took the field, two dozen cameras filmed the back of his head as he watched batting practice. He completed his rounds of hitting and hugged Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees during Jeter’s first 12 seasons and four World Series championships. The sea of on-field humanity parted as he disappeared into the dugout.
Upon his return, adulation engulfed him. The crowd delivered a sizable, but restrained, standing ovation in pregame introductions. He stunned observers by ranging to his left — never a strong suit, even in his youth — to snare a hard-hit grounder by Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen in the game’s first at-bat. McCutchen beat the throw, but still the crowd roared.
“I think I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life,” Perez said.
The noise only increased before his first at-bat. The voice of Bob Sheppard, the long-time Yankees announcer, flowed through the Target Field speakers. Sheppard died in 2010, but Jeter still utilizes his introduction when he walks to the plate, a recording frozen in time: “Now batting, No. 2…”
Jeter motioned to Wainwright to get started, but the noise overcame them both. Wainwright stepped off the mound. The ovation lasted 45 seconds. When Jeter stepped into the box, the fans uttered the four-syllable recitation of his name that is so common in The Bronx.
At a news conference a day before, a fan implored Wainwright to groove a fastball to Jeter. Wainwright insisted he wouldn’t. He knew he would start Tuesday’s game, and he knew Jeter would be the first batter he faced. Never before had he dueled with Jeter.
“I’m very excited about it,” Wainwright said on Monday afternoon. “Just to say I faced the best.”
Wainwright fired a low fastball. Ball one. One misguided soul chose this moment to begin an “overrated” chant. His voice drowned in the wave that followed. Jeter punched a double to right, pulling his hands in to flick a 90-mph fastball into the opposite field.
The words of Wainwright would spoil the scene in the coming hours. But those inside the ballpark ignored the choreography. The fans stood and saluted Jeter. It was not the first time on this night. It would not be the last.
“To have that moment in the All Star Game,” he said, “was special.”
To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/McCulloughStar.