Cheers follow Derek Jeter, even in Seattle

SEATTLE — Oh-for-five and a late-night trip to McDonald’s.

That’s how a Hall of Fame career got its humble beginning in Seattle 19 years ago when a 20-year-old Derek Jeter made his Major League debut against the Mariners in the Kingdome.

“I was 0-for-5,” Jeter said. “After the game, my dad was in town, and we tried to get something to eat and everything was closed, so we ended up walking to a McDonald’s. He’s here again today, so we’ll go to McDonald’s afterwards.”

A night later in May of 1995, Jeter recorded his first two hits, and while no one could have known it at the time, he was beginning one of the great careers in New York Yankees history.

It’s hard to imagine that Jeter, now a 13-time All Star and five-time World Series champion, actually went out for fast food now like he did in 1995, but if he did, it’s understandable why the Yankees captain would get a little sentimental in his final trip to Seattle as a player.

“It’s always fun to come to Seattle,” said Jeter, who announced in February that he will retire after the 2014 season. “This is where I played my first game, so every time I come here, that’s the memory that comes to mind first. This is where it all began, so even though it’s been quite some time, I’ve always enjoyed coming here.”

Because Jeter announced his retirement ahead of time, road trips this season have turned into something of a farewell tour, much like they did for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera last season. Prior to Tuesday’s game, Jeter was presented gifts — a seat from the Kingdome, a new watch and a $5,000 donation to his foundation — by current Mariners Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, and former Mariners Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez. There was also a brief tribute video and plenty of loud cheers from fans both before and during the game.

“The fans have been awesome everywhere we’ve gone,” Jeter said. “I don’t expect people to give me gifts, I don’t expect anything, I’m just trying to help us win games. It’s been overwhelming at times how positive the fan reaction has been.”

That the fan reaction has been so overwhelmingly positive is expected given Jeter’s decorated career, yet also somewhat remarkable when you consider he spent his entire career winning with the Yankees, a franchise reviled by fans of other teams around the country because of its success and the big spending that helps it achieve said success.

Yet while so many might dislike the way the Yankees have done business for so long, nobody seems to have anything bad to say about Jeter other than to maybe point out his declining skills as he approaches his 40th birthday. The most cliche thing you could possibly say about Jeter is that he played the game the right way, but it’s also one of the most accurate ways to describe the shortstop.

“I’m sure everybody has said everything you could possibly say about Derek Jeter, but for me, for the last 20 years, Derek Jeter has been everything that’s right about the game of baseball,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s a class act. I’m sure you’ve all heard it time and time again, but it’s been a pleasure competing against him.”

Regardless of how much you might hate the Yankees, or how much you wish those Jeter-led teams of the late 90s and early 2000s hadn’t been around to keep the Mariners out of the World Series, it’s nearly impossible to look at Jeter’s career and not tip your cap and say, “well done.”

“When you look at a guy who’s been a pretty good role model on and off the field, he’s probably No. 1,” Mariners shortstop Brad Miller said. “My age, I’ve grown up only knowing Derek Jeter playing shortstop for the Yankees. He’s the gold standard. World Series champion. He takes care of his business on and off the field. He’s the guy.”

That respect carries over to fans, both of the Yankees and their opponents, both of whom welcomed Jeter to Safeco Field with a nice ovation before his first at bat Tuesday.

Then, across the street from where he recorded the first hit of his illustrious career, Jeter bounced a single up the middle for No. 3,371. A big cheer went up, much of it coming from the large contingent of Yankees fans in attendance, but also from Mariners fans, who, despite being on the wrong end of so many battles with Jeter’s Yankees, couldn’t help but applaud the retiring legend.

For nearly two decades, Jeter has been the face of an organization known to many as The Evil Empire, yet the way he played made it nearly impossible for even the biggest Yankee haters to hate the captain.

“He’s baseball,” McClendon said. “He’s everything that’s right about our game.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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