It was still a couple of hours before game time and the crowd of reporters was already forming in the visiting team’s dugout at Rogers Centre, jostling for position to get the best vantage point for what was to come.
At the appropriate time the masses parted, like the Red Sea, to make room for Derek Jeter, the New York Yankee messiah who has been receiving the love wherever he goes this season, his final hurrah in a 20-year career that has little comparison.
One reporter crouched on her haunches in front of Jeter, gazing up reverently at the Yankee captain. Others perched precariously on top of the dugout seats at Jeter’s shoulders.
Those media members who were trapped at the back of pack passed their tape recorders up to their front-row colleagues to make sure that they would not miss a single word that the soft-spoken Jeter would utter during this pregame availability.
The event was even carried live on television and radio over the dinner hour.
And it was all rather comical given that Jeter has made a career of being very cordial, very prim and proper, while saying very little in the way of anything substantial. It is one reason why he has managed to survive the shark’s tank that is playing in New York City his entire career without any flesh wounds to speak of.
You want flesh wounds? See the tenure of Alex Rodriguez in Yankee pinstripes.
“I don’t know, never done it before,” Jeter responded blandly when asked what it will be like playing September baseball knowing he is that much closer to seeing his career wind down.
“I think obviously the closer you get to the end, the more attention is paid to it,” he continued. “I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it. But at this particular point we’re trying to win games. So I’m trying to do my best to treat it like any other season.”
Of course, it is not like any other season.
Before the year started, the 40-year-old shortstop announced that this would be his final before he heads into the sunset to do, in his own words, “relax.” And every major-league city the Yankees have headed into for the final time during the course of the regular season there have been special ceremonies honouring his fabulous career.
And so it will be in Toronto this weekend, where the Yankees are making their final trip, which began with a three-game set last night.
On Sunday, the Blue Jays have said they, too, will do something to recognize the shortstop’s career.
So far, Jeter has received golf clubs from the Astros in Houston, the last second base ever used at the old Metrodome when he visited Minnesota, some Napa Valley wine when the Yankees stopped in Oakland, and an opportunity to meet former U.S. president George W. Bush while in Arlington to play the Texas Rangers.
What he will get on Sunday in Toronto is anybody’s guess, as the Blue Jays are not telling. Predictions are ranging from Inuit art, a freezer filled with back bacon or a meet-and-greet with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
Jeter said that he has always enjoyed playing in Toronto and that Roy Halladay was one of the pitchers that always troubled him the most.
And his favourite memory relating to playing in Toronto: is not really one, as he recalls dislocating his shoulder sliding into third base during a game early in the season in 2003.
“I love the city of Toronto,” Jeter said. “This team’s given us fits throughout the years, especially here. One moment that stands out, the first thing I think about is dislocating my shoulder at third base. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. But I’ve always enjoyed coming to Toronto.”
As the case with many great athletes, Jeter is often booed by the fans in opposing cities. It is a sure sign that greatness has been achieved.
Over the years Toronto has been no different with Jeter being heckled every time he steps into the batter’s box.
On Friday, it was different.
On Friday, the cheers from the 43,318 on hand started building as Jeter made his way toward the plate in the first inning before his first at-bat. And by the time he stepped into the batter’s box, most of the crowd were on their feet.
Jeter, typically, kept things very businesslike, and flew out to right field on the second pitch.
In the second inning, with the Blue Jays batting, Dioner Navarro strikes a grounder up the middle that sends Jeter scampering to his left.
In his prime Jeter makes the play but this time he has to lunge at the last moment and the ball still skips off his glove and rolls into centrefield where Jeter had to chase it down.
In the sixth, Jeter singles to centre, and the ball wasn’t even taken out of the game for posterity.