NEW YORK – Derek Jeter held a microphone and spoke without notes to the crowd that filled sold-out Yankee Stadium. His No. 2, the last of the single digit pinstripes, had been retired and a plaque in his honor dedicated that will be placed in Monument Park alongside tributes to Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra and the rest of the team’s greats.
“There isn’t a person or player I would trade places with that’s playing now or ever,” he told the fans.
Three years removed from a big league career that spanned 1995-2014, Jeter personally picked Mother’s Day for his tribute. His grandmother, parents, sister, nephew and pregnant wife joined him for the ceremony, and he laughed when he saw the plaque, which reads “DEREK SANDERSON JETER/’THE CAPTAIN’/”MR. NOVEMBER’ ” and goes on to call him “THE CORNERSTONE OF FIVE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS” AND “A LEADER ON THE FIELD AND IN THE CLUBHOUSE, SETTING AN EXAMPLE FOR HIS TEAMMATES WITH HIS UNCOMPROMISING DESIRE FOR TEAM SUCCESS.”
Jeter recalled flashing back to the plaques of teammates Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte unveiled in recent years.
“When Bernie got his, he had the big mole. When Jorge had his, he had the big ears. Andy had the big nose. So I was happy with mine,” Jeter said.
Now 42, Jeter captained the Yankees during his final 12 seasons, capping a career that included five World Series titles, a .310 batting average and a New York-record 3,465 hits. He is the 22nd player to have his number retired by the Yankees, by far the most among major league teams.
“I want to thank my family for their love, support, honesty and more importantly their presence at everything I did both on and off the field,” he said during a three-minute speech that ended the 40-minute ceremony. “And the fans — wow — I want to thank you guys for pushing me, for challenging me, making me accountable, more importantly for embracing me since day one.”
Jeter decided to address the crowd without notes.
“When I prepare speeches I forget part of it, and then none of it makes sense,” he said later.
New York appropriately played two on Derek Jeter Night, a doubleheader against Houston caused by a rainout Saturday, and the festivities took place after an 11-6 win in the opener.
Former teammates Mariano Rivera, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone and Hideki Matsui also were on hand. Alex Rodriguez was not — spokesman Ron Berkowitz said A-Rod was in Miami, spending time with his mother and daughters.
Several of the players whose numbers had been retired previously wore a new Monument Park navy blazer, and one also was given to Jeter by Houston’s Carlos Beltran, a former Yankees teammate. Reggie Jackson was on the field in shirt sleeves.
Yankees co-owner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal presented the 14-time All-Star with a 14-karat white gold ring with “2” in diamonds, surrounded by diamonds.
Introduced by a recording of late Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard — it was played before Jeter’s at-bats following Sheppard’s death in 2010 — Jeter wore a blue three-piece peak-lapel suit, white collared shirt and no tie.
Highlights of his most famous moments were shown on the video board, including his homer and over-the-shoulder catch on his first opening day in 1996; backhanded flip to the plate against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs and Mr. November home run just after midnight a few weeks later that won Game 4 of that year’s World Series; and his face-first dive into the seats for a popup against Boston in 2004.
Jeter began the ceremony with his family in Monument Park and didn’t see the clips.
“I might have gotten emotional, but we were back there joking and having a good time with my family,” he said.
He rode to the infield in a golf cart as Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way” was played.
“Everything happened so quickly,” Jeter said.
Jeter didn’t have No. 2 in his mind before reaching the Yankees. Jeter was a No. 13 much of the time in the minor leagues.
“My dad wore number 13 when he was playing at Fisk University in Tennessee, so at any point in my sports career I tried to get the number 13,” Jeter said. “When I came here, Jim Leyritz had it. You don’t come up requesting numbers when you’re 20 years old, so I took what they gave me.”
At his first big league camp in 1994, he was given No. 74. The following spring, he recalled being assigned No. 17 by clubhouse manager Nick Priore, who then switched it to No. 2 — which Jeter wore for his big league debut on May 29, 1995. Then-Yankees manager Buck Showalter is said to have behind the switch.
“There’s rumors out there that Buck suggested I be No. 2,” Jeter said. “He’s never told me that personally, but I’ve heard that he’s said it and I appreciate it if he thought that much of me to give me the number 2.”
Among players on the most recent Yankees dynasty, Posada (20), Rivera (42), Pettitte (46) and Williams (51) also had their numbers retired.
“Having five people from that group is kind of hard to believe,” Jeter said. “When we were in it we used to constantly have conversations about it: You never look back at anything that we had accomplished, it was always what’s next. Eventually nothing is next because you’re retired, but we all had those same mindsets and that’s why I think we had success. We went out there day in and day out trying to win, trying to do anything to help the team and more importantly trying to keep our jobs.”