The Captain and The Bear

Those of you who know me personally know I’m a New York Yankees fan, as evidenced by the two-story hint we’ve placed in downtown Birmingham. Despite my love of Rickwood Field, if you cornered me and asked I would admit to not being a baseball fan, per se. A Yankees fan, yes. Therefore it will come as no surprise that I thought you might enjoy a few thoughts and experiences I’ve had regarding “The Captain,” Derek Jeter, who played in his last game only a handful of days ago.

We have watched Derek Jeter play in several venues over the years, most of our interaction has occurred near Tampa, FL. His home there looks more like a giant hotel than a single-family residence. In addition to watching him play in New York, we have also seen him play in Seattle, WA, and just about every Spring Training venue throughout Florida, where we go every year. Once, we were having coffee at a Starbucks between George Steinbrenner Field and Derek Jeter’s home in the morning when who should walk in, but The Captain. We received a salute, but did not interact with him there because almost all the young women under 40 were trying to get near him.

Another occasion was at C. C. Sabbathia’s charity event to which we were invited. Sabbathia held this at a Tampa bowling alley and the Winingers of Birmingham were two of only 15 or 20 lay people who were present. On that occasion, we had a long conversation with David Robertson, who has become the Yankee’s closer, replacing Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time. Robertson is from Alabama and played at the University of Alabama before donning pinstripes. I was trying to solicit him to come up for a speaking engagement when he told me that he and his then fiancé (now wife) had moved to Tampa and that he rarely got back up to Birmingham. I will keep trying, however.

On that same occasion, when Derek arrived, the bowling alley experienced a hush, one reminiscent of what used to happen when University of Alabama Head Football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant entered a room. The Jeter experience was similar, but not nearly the same. For example, we were at a cocktail party with several hundred people when Coach Bryant entered through a side door. A giant hush moved across the room like a great tidal wave. It was unlike anything I had ever seen and I have been in the presence of several presidents of the United States. No one ever commanded a room as he did.

Back to the Jeter experience, once he entered the bowling alley, he did not quite become just “one of the boys”, but he was accessible. He signed a ball for us on that occasion and asked if I could throw a strike. I told him I could probably come closer to throwing a strike at the stadium than I could down the bowling alley.

“… when Derek arrived, the bowling alley experienced a hush, one reminiscent of what used to happen when University of Alabama Head Football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant entered a room.”

On another occasion we were guests at the Grand Kids charity which was sponsored by former Yankee, Curtis Granderson. While Curtis was only with the Yankees for a few years, he was absolutely one of the nicest guys around. We met his parents and had a wonderful time with them. The event was held at a restaurant and we were allowed in an area where only the players and a few of the lay people were permitted. When Jeter arrived for this event, he came right up near where we were and when he was approached, some Yankee bodyguard-types tried to prevent the people from having access to him. Jeter shooed them off and talked to several of us folks who were not official Yankees, but who were special guests. He was always very cordial and gracious.

That is what I will always remember about him. Yes, he was a great player, but he was also a charismatic human being and had a certainly quality about him – the ability to hush a room – that many memorable and often great people do. God speed, Captain.