Today’s Pinch Hitter has been here before. Nick Kirby is a 21-year-old junior at the University of Delaware (as an aside, that’s where my brother-in-law got his undergraduate degree). Nick’s studying health sciences and advertising, and I assume that’s because he’s involved some sort of contest to determine who can pick the set of majors that have the least in common. Nick’s the vice president of his fraternity, and he’s involved with the student radio station as a sports talk show host and occasional play-by-play man for the Blue Hens.
For his post, Nick focused on his generation of Yankees fans, who are truly entering a new era of fandom. Nicks’ favorite player is Derek Jeter, and Jeter might not be around much longer.
For the past few years, we’ve heard commentators discuss the impact of the Core Four: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettite. We’ve heard about how much those four have meant to the Yankees franchise, the championships they brought to the city, and how difficult it’s going to be for Brian Cashman to replace some of these icons.
Pro sports affect every fan differently, but over time, the Core Four developed an unparalleled connection with Yankees fans born between the late eighties and early nineties.
As Millennial Yankees fans, we got to witness an unbelievable run that, due to free agency and the collective bargaining agreement, probably won’t be seen for a while. In a remarkable 18-year period from 1995 to 2012, the Yankees made the playoffs 17 times, won 13 AL East Crowns, seven pennants and five world championships. It’s easy to measure the success that this group of Yankees had on the baseball field. They were flat out dominant.
But more than the tangible success, this group formed an emotional connection with fans growing up in the 90’s that cannot be measured with statistics.
Growing up, we saw glimpses of dynasties that couldn’t sustain because egos or money got in the way. We saw the Shaq/Kobe Lakers disintegrate because they couldn’t get along. We saw A-Rod and Ken Griffey Jr. bolt from Seattle because of money and power problems. We even saw LeBron James organize a national TV special to tell everyone that he was leaving his hometown team. Players just seemed to jump around constantly, and as free agency allowed athletes to put money and ego above all, the Core Four represented everything that pro sports were not.
They didn’t hold out for new contracts. They didn’t complain to the press about playing time. They didn’t bolt for more money, or fight over the spotlight. They didn’t sexually assault any women, rip their teammates to the press, or go on rants and blame people. In the process, they were able to accomplish what nobody else could: continued, sustainable success as a group.
Despite public perception, the latest Yankees dynasty was built on homegrown talent and selflessness. These guys simply showed up every day, played hard, and went home. Were they perfect people? No. Did they make mistakes? Absolutely. But they made sure to stay out of the public eye and not let any differences come in the way of the ultimate goal: competing for championships.
I used to think that these guys would play forever, that they were timeless. Throughout our childhood, they played every day and competed. No matter what was going in our lives, we always believed that Rivera was going to nail down the save or that Jeter was going to come through with a walk-off hit. As we grew up, changed schools, and hit puberty, these players represented stability and comfort. They were our role models, and they always seemed to be there for us. But Father Time catches up with all of us. These players aged and neared retirement at an almost identical rate that we aged out of childhood. Every time I’d hear a commentator talking about Jeter’s decreased range or how many years Rivera had left, I would realize just how little childhood I had left. Their departure from the game was a dark reminder that we were growing up, as these players were the last form of childhood activity that I still enjoyed.
With three of the four players gone — and Jeter hanging onto his career by a thread — it is written on the wall that the end is here. In my opinion, this will be Jeter’s last year, and it is only fitting that he will retire sometime around when I graduate college in May of 2015. I will always look back at my childhood and associate it with these players, as they represented a time in my life when everything was so simple, before technology and maturity.
This past September, when Pettitte and Jeter went to get Rivera from the mound in his last game ever, we saw them break down in tears because they knew this wonderful run was over. Looking on, I couldn’t help but to cry with them. As they walked back to the dugout, they took my childhood with them.
Associated Press photo