At my age, and with the number of baseball games under my belt, it's not often that a May baseball game feels "special."
Don't get me wrong. I love going to baseball games and they're all unique in their own way. But Monday's afternoon game against the New York Yankees is different because the St. Louis Cardinals will mark the anniversary of the fabled 1964 World Series victory over the Bronx Bombers. Also because Cardinals fans, always a crowd that appreciates the accomplishments of players in the other dugout, will have a chance to say goodbye to future Hall of Fame Derek Jeter.
The Yankees are a team that's easy for other town's fans to despise because of the way they tend to steamroll the free agent market, attempting to buy a championship at any price. But Jeter is a throwback. He's a member of the great Yankees teams of the 1990s and early 2000s which were largely homegrown.
This isn't Wade Boggs playing 11 years with the Red Sox and then jumping to the Yankees for a big payday and a ring. This is a guy who, along with Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, was raised in the Yankees organization like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Cardinals fans are proud of their team's perch as the best team in the history of the National League. To celebrate their history means they must at least tip their cap in acknowledgement of the Yankees' dominance over the American League.
Jeter has had a hard time lately. He's been criticized for collecting his big paycheck while spending so much time on the shelf with injuries. He's been knocked for his refusal to play a position other than shortstop as his range has diminished in recent years. But let's not forget that Jeter is the ultimate big game player of our generation. And he's also one of the most baseball savvy and fundamentally sound players in the modern game. I doubt we will see the likes of him again in a world where it seems like players are only concerned with honing their hitting skills to increase their next contract's value instead of working on their defense or sacrificing for the good of their team.
Despite all the great players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig who have been Yankees, it is Jeter who is that club's all-time hits leader. Padded by added rounds of playoffs through the years, Jeter has played in more post season games than any other Yankee. He's a .308 hitter in the playoffs including a career .321 mark in 38 World Series games.
This is only the second time the Yankees have visited St. Louis since the 1964 World Series. So, for many, their last glance of Jeter may be their first. But it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to know that someday in the no too distant future when I next visit Cooperstown I can show my son his plaque and tell him "I remember when I saw Jeter play."
People can hate the Yankees. But it's tough to be a true baseball fan and not at least appreciate Jeter.