I posed a question on Facebook on Wednesday, the day after making a road trip to Cleveland with my son to see the Yankees-Indians game at Progressive Field.
Here's what I wrote:
On likely my only Yankee trip this season, I took the chance to focus my attention (and camera) on future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter. My question: Has there been a player of his stature enjoy the game more, while having the respect of his peers at every turn? I don't think so.
Derek Jeter took the time to greet almost everyone at Progressive Field on Tuesday night.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
The majority of my "friends" who chose to respond agreed with me.
A few others, though, didn't.
One suggested beloved former Yankee Don Mattingly. Another, who said he tends "to devalue current players for old school,'' mentioned Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks and Stan Musial.
It's hard to argue with that trio. Their roles as ambassadors for America's pastime - on and off the field - put them in very select company. I'm sure Jeter is worthy of being in their company as well. And just in case additional proof is required, I'd be happy to vouch for Jeter's candidacy simply by recalling what I witnessed during Tuesday's game against the Tribe.
For it was from my pregame perch behind the Yankees' dugout during batting practice to my seat in Section 265, Row B, Seat 5 at Progressive Field that No. 2 confirmed yet again that he's not only a fan favorite, but his peers hold him in the same regard.
Just ask teammate Brendan Ryan. As the utility infielder joined Jeter taking groundballs during batting practice, my camera caught the pair joking, laughing and enjoying each other's company. The ringleader was Jeter.
Isolated incident? Not in the least.
Once his infield work at shortstop was complete, Jeter jogged toward the first-base dugout and ultimately made a right turn down the first-base line toward the batting cage. Before he took his cuts, Jeter found a young man, who was wearing a gray "Property of Cleveland Indians" T-shirt, waiting for him. Before you knew it, Jeter was signing a baseball and a No. 2 pinstripe jersey, and posing for a photograph with the young man. The teenager didn't need to be encouraged to smile.
Jeter then grabbed a bat, took some practice swings and engaged teammates Kelly Johnson, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner and Irchiro Suzuki in playful banter. Once in the cage, he laid down a couple bunts and then lined a few pitches into the outfield before taking off for first base and another conversation, this time with first-base coach Mick Kelleher. If you guessed there were more smiles and laughter, you were right.
Jeter ended up jogging to second base and as he rounded third he made a beeline to the Indians dugout where manager Terry Francona was waiting. The two talked for an extended time, Jeter signed a couple more autographs for some youngsters and then he jogged back to the area behind the batting cage where he shook hands with two men who were talking to Yankees manager Joe Girardi. After a couple more turns in the batting cage and a couple more conversations, Jeter finally retreated to the dugout and, ultimately, to the clubhouse to get ready for the game and my son and I found our seats in the field boxes on the third-base line.
In the top of the first inning, Jeter, batting second, received a loud ovation as he stepped to the plate and eventually launched a drive to deep center field off Indians' starter Trevor Bauer. Michael Brantley made an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track, denying Jeter of at least a double. Jeter was hitless during the game, but, as always, he was a big hit everywhere else.
I'm honored to have had a chance to see him in person in his 20th, and final, season.