You can talk about the records that Derek Jeter holds. You can talk about his championships and the success of the teams he’s been a part of. You can talk about his textbook inside-out swing and his spectacular jump-throws to first. And while all those have contributed to Derek Jeter’s success and popularity, the continual youthful enthusiasm for the game of baseball may be his most impressive trait – a trait that has followed him from Westwood Little League in Kalamazoo, Mich., all the way to the New York Yankees.
When Mr. Jeter announced his retirement on February 12, 2014, the sports world started paying homage to perhaps the most iconic baseball player of his generation.
Mr. Jeter, 40, made his first appearance in the big leagues in 1995. Over the course of his final season, he went from ninth on the Major League Baseball all-time hits list to sixth, a position he will keep for the foreseeable future. He holds a .309 career batting average with 260 home runs and 357 stolen bases. In Yankees history, he ranks first in games played, at-bats, hits and stolen bases. There are few accolades he hasn’t earned from Rookie of the Year to Silver Slugger to Gold Glove. He is the only player to be named All-Star Game MVP and World Series MVP in the same season. His World Series heroics in 2001, following the September 11 tragedy, earned him the nickname of Mr. November.
He has been honored at ever Major League Baseball park this year, at the All-Star Game, and he will continue to be feted over the years. His number 2 will join numbers 1 through 10 (number 8 twice) in the outfield at Yankee Stadium, never to be worn again. He will almost assuredly be a first-ballot enshrinee in the National Baseball Hall of Fame when he’s eligible in 2019, and many experts think he might receive the highest percentage of votes in the history of the Hall of Fame.
And while his numbers and on-field performance will always be part of his legacy, the way he played the game is indicative not only of the values that Little League imparts to children around the world, but also why Mr. Jeter became a legend on the field. An eternal sportsman, even in a city where it’s easy for big names to find the spotlight, the game was always bigger than Mr. Jeter. His team-first mentality led him to be named just the 14th team captain in the 111-year history of the New York Yankees. Fundamentally sound on the field and at the plate, he hustled and smiled during every game.
Off the field, Mr. Jeter shared the life skills that Little League® teaches through his Turn 2 Foundation. A leadership building program, the Turn 2 Foundation was established in 1996, just one year after Mr. Jeter’s debut and the same year that he would win his first World Series title.
Four years later, Little League honored Mr. Jeter’s parents, Charles and Dorothy, as the 2000 George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year. Recognizing not only their role in developing their son into the leader he is today, but also in the formation of the Turn 2 Foundation. The organization’s mission is to motivate young people to turn away from drugs and alcohol and “Turn 2” healthy lifestyles, while promoting and rewarding academic excellence, leadership development, and positive behavior.
It’s because of those qualities, the ones found in the Little League motto – Character, Courage, Loyalty – that Mr. Jeter is being celebrated this year. Major League Baseball clubs have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr. Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation and other causes important to him. Those donations have been bolstered by recognition from other big names in sports, and Little League national sponsors like New Era and Gatorade.
Throughout this season, video tributes to Mr. Jeter have been emotional and have gone viral on social media. Tributes from Gatorade and Major League Baseball thank Mr. Jeter for his role in making baseball and sports what they are today. Even Little League’s licensing partner Oyo, who created a Derek Jeter Westwood Little League figurine with his Little League number, 13, joined in the video tributes.
And while Mr. Jeter’s playing career comes to a close, his impact on bettering the lives of children around the world will continue, both through his Turn 2 Foundation and his new children’s book publishing venture, Jeter Publishing, a division of Simon and Schuster. His first book, The Contract, hit bookstores on September 23.
There have been many iconic Little League graduates - a U.S. president, best-selling authors, and Hall of Famers in every major sport – and Little League is proud to have Mr. Jeter on that list.
Congratulations on an amazing career and thank you for showing millions of children and Little Leaguers the values of sportsmanship, teamwork, and dedication the past 20 years, Mr. Jeter.