12/19/08 10:00 AM EST
Jeter provides Moment of the Year
Shortstop's speech the perfect closing act for Yankee Stadium
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The final score was, indeed, the final score, closing out the building on Sept. 21 the way the history books show it opened -- with a Yankees victory.
Then, in a moment stripped from cinema, Derek Jeter looked up into the roaring crowd of 54,610 and pulled out the perfect words to fit the occasion.
"I was scared to death," Jeter later admitted. "When I was younger, I used to get really, really nervous when I had to do an oral report in front of 25 people. I guess I've come a long way."
Jeter's triumphant address was chosen as the 2008 Moment of the Year in MLB.com's annual This Year in Baseball Awards presented by State Farm, which was voted on by fans. A record 12 million ballots were cast, eclipsing last year's total of 9.6 million.
To hear Jeter tell the story, his preparation time before saying the parting words in the most storied facility in sports amounted to one brief ninth-inning sequence. With Mariano Rivera grinding out the final frame against the Orioles, Jeter was lifted with two outs and jogged off the field to a rousing wave of applause.
It was then he remembered he'd been told there was a chance that he -- as the club's captain -- would be asked to speak during the final ceremony.
"I said, 'I've got to think of something quick,' " he said. "I knew I wanted to acknowledge the fans."
Rivera recorded that final out, inducing Brian Roberts to ground out to first base, and Jeter was soon surrounded by his teammates near the pitcher's mound. Jeter's right hand drew a microphone closer to his mouth; his thoughts raced. The crowd hushed.
"For all of us up here, it's a huge honor to put this uniform on every day and come out here and play," he opened, pausing as Rivera and Jason Giambi shifted uncomfortably alongside him.
Brushing his left hand across the brim of his cap, Jeter looked past the flickering cameras and continued.
"And every member of this organization, past and present, has been calling this place home for 85 years," he said. "There's a lot of tradition, a lot of history and a lot of memories. Now, the great thing about memories is, you're able to pass it along from generation to generation.
"And although things are going to change next year, we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change -- its pride, its tradition and, most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world."
With that came a great roar and television cameras showed former New York mayor and self-proclaimed No. 1 Yankees fan Rudy Giuliani clapping from the front row. The smiling players waved their caps.
"We're relying on you," Jeter concluded, "to take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories that come to the new Yankee Stadium, and continue to pass them on from generation to generation.
"On behalf of this entire organization, we want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world."
With that, the shortstop led his team in a final lap around Yankee Stadium, carried by Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York" playing repeatedly in the background.
Later, as everyone within 10 feet of the mound scooped keepsake dirt into paper cups and scattered to the city streets, it was Jeter's speech that won the raves.
"I thought that it was perfect," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's someone who has grown up in this organization, and who is a true Yankee. It was just perfect. He did everything right, and it's just who he is."
"I think it was great," Bernie Williams said. "I think I would have been a nervous wreck, grabbing the microphone in front of all these people and saying what he did. He looked very poised, and he did a great job."
Jeter's Yankee Stadium sendoff speech received 34.7 percent of ballots cast from fans around the world. Josh Hamilton received 22.3 percent of the vote to earn second place, honored for his Home Run Derby barrage of 28 first-round long balls at Yankee Stadium.
Ryan Braun, who played the hero with an eighth-inning homer on Sept. 28 to lift the Brewers to their first postseason berth since 1982, ranked third, with 11.6 percent of the ballots cast. Ken Griffey Jr.'s 600th career homer rounded out the top four by garnering 8.3 percent of the vote.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.