Autumn is the season of goodbyes. Goodbye to a summer that was too short. Goodbye to sun filled days, greenery, flowers, frolicking on the beach, and baseball.
Autumn is the season when baseball players say goodbye. Last week two captains of pinstripes bid farewell to the game and the fans, New York Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter and White Sox first baseman, Paul Konerko.
Derek Jeter's farewell was a long goodbye all summer, with tear jerking commercials by sponsors like Gatorade. Like New York, Jeter's goodbye was brash, bold, and played out in the media.
Konerko's farewell was simple and quiet. Like the corner of the city, Bridgeport, where the White Sox provide the only noise.
Both men exhibited humility and gratitude in their goodbyes.
“It’s kind of hard to believe that 20 seasons has [sic] gone by so quickly,” the captain said during ‘Derek Jeter Day.’ He complimented his teammates, past and present, saying that he had been ‘blessed to play with the best,’ but he saved his most sincere words for the fans. ‘I’ve always felt as though that my job was to try to provide joy and entertainment for you guys but it can’t compare to what you brought me. So for that, thank you very much.’ (Derek Jeter/Daily Beast)
"This is way more you ever dreamed that could happen when you pick up a bat and you're 6 years old and you find yourself here 32 years later with all this going on,'' Konerko began. "It's not something that you think is going to happen.'' (Paul Konerko/Chicago Tribune)
There is one word attached to Jeter and Konerko, integrity. There is another word. A word never attached to Konerko and Jeter, scandal.
During their long careers, starting in childhood, they played the game with a workman's ethic. Through all the scandals, in sports and other players private lives, they were never touched.
Jeter was more well known due to commercials and the Yankee PR machine. But, fame aside, both men shared three other words, loyalty, character and integrity. Both had a love of the game and the teams they played on.
Like autumn, neither man went out in a blaze of glory. It was more like fall sunsets. Orange and purple fading slowly to black. There were no bats cracking home runs or phenomenal game saving base or field plays. They showed up to play baseball to the best of their time worn limited abilities.
Jeter and Konerko had a passion for the game of baseball. They brought that passion to work with them every time, right to the end.
Unlike other sports baseball does not just produce heroes. It produces memories. Konerko and Jeter produced memories for their generation, like Ernie Banks, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and others did for past generations.
They were captains of the pinstripes. They were leaders. They played for the fans. Baseball is a game of great joy and heartbreak. Jeter and Konerko knew that.
In a time when professional sports is reeling with scandal, trash talk, thug and criminal behavior, Jeter and Konerko are throwbacks to another era. An era of sportsmanship. An era where the game was what mattered.
They were traditionalists in an era of caricatures.
Konerko and Jeter will be remembered as gentlemen. Nice guys who finished first. They will be remembered for their love of the game, their respective teams, and the fans. Always the fans.
Baseball is also about kids. Young kids with stars in their eyes. Young kids who grow up to be old men with memories. Memories of seeing Ernie Banks play at Wrigley Field or Luis Aparicio at the old Comiskey Park.
In future years, kids who become old men will fondly remember seeing Paul Konerko play at the Cell and Derek Jeter play in not one, but two Yankee Stadiums.
Baseball is about memories. Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko gave us a lot to remember.
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