NEW YORK (AP) — Derek Jeter arrived for his last Yankee Stadium opener fashionably early at 9:35 a.m., attired in a gray suit, white shirt, purple tie and black Prada lace-up shoes.
His performance, if not stylish, was memorable. Jeter missed a home run by about 2 feet in Monday's 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. After he left the batter's box slowly leading off the fifth inning, the ball hit off the "8'' in the 318-foot sign in the left-field corner and Jeter hustled into second with a headfirst slide.
"I had to pick up the pace a little bit," he admitted. "Yeah, there were some guys laughing — until a couple of them hit some balls and the wind got them, too." It was a rare mind cramp for a player known for hustle and an unfailing ability to be in the right place.
"Maybe you get caught up in opening day," he said. "You probably haven't seen it, probably won't see it again. But what can you (do)? I was safe. It would be a lot more embarrassing if I was out." Jeter scored one run, sent another home with a double-play grounder on a 1-for-4 day and was applauded every time he came to bat and fielded a grounder to shortstop.
This was Jeter's first appearance in New York since announcing Feb. 12 that his 20th season will be his last. With the retirements of Jeter's No. 2 and former manager Joe Torre's No. 6 likely, the 48,142 adoring and slightly frosted fans on hand during a cool and overcast afternoon almost surely were the last to witness a single-digit pinstriped uniform on opening day.
Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte formed a Core Four reunion for the ceremonial first pitch ceremony, a reminder of the five World Series rings earned during Jeter's era. And Yogi Berra, the Yankees' 88-year-old symbol of post-World II dominance, was in the clubhouse in his wheel chair for some opening-day schmoozing.
Since first coming up to the big leagues in 1995 and establishing himself the following year, Jeter had been model Yankee, continuing the line of greatness that began with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and was extended by Joe DiMaggio, Berra and Mickey Mantle. He became captain in 2003 and still talks of owner George Steinbrenner instilling the compulsive obsession to win, recalling "if you didn't do your job, the Boss would get rid of you."
As players' lives became more public in the digital age, Jeter remained opaque and a bit Vulcan, suppressing emotion. "Yeah, you have feelings and there's a lot of wild moments playing here in New York," he said, "but for me I just it was always easier for me to play if I tried to control my emotions."
After breaking his left ankle in the 2012 playoffs and limping through 17 games last year, Jeter decided 2014 was the end. He turns 40 in June and probably could play a few more years but felt this is the right time to move forward to the next stage in his life.
"He has a lot more mileage on his body than all of us," Posada said, having watched Jeter play through injuries that would have sent others to the bench. Pettitte implored Jeter to "just try to embrace it and really enjoy" his final year "because he's going to blink and the season is going to be over and then he's not going to put the uniform on again."
"It's kind of weird, but it is what it is," Posada said. "We have to move on, and another core four has got to step up." Jeter's head was bowed during much of "The Star-Spangled Banner." When the national anthem ended, he crouched for a few seconds, then got up, put on his cap and jogged down the first base line and the back of the infield dirt toward second base.
By coincidence, Jeter's first big league manager, Buck Showalter, was across the field running the Orioles. Showalter expressed effusive praise. "A lot of people get caught up in the disease of 'me,'" he said. "Derek never fell in that."
More than 3½ hours before Monday's first pitch, Jeter was among the first players in the Yankees oval clubhouse. A gift basket of liquor at his locker, next to one of the new office-style swivel chairs with each player's number and the team's interlocking "NY" logo.
Seeing a business bonanza, the Yankees were selling jerseys with Jeter commemorative retirement patches, starting with replicas at $114.99 and going up to $240.99 for authentic models. Steiner Sports was hawking a game-used single cleat for $2,549.99 and game-worn jerseys at up to $25,000.
Jeter didn't have much hope of leaving the ballpark with any mementos. "I'm good taking the win," he said, "but Steiner Sports has the rest."