Derek Jeter said he will determine how he will say goodbye to a legion of fans at Yankee Stadium during his drive to the ballpark Sunday. Until now, Derek Jeter Day has not been paramount on his mind.
"I was not born with the ability to think about things in advance," the 40-year-old retiring shortstop said. "I'm not going into it thinking of anything, so I haven't really given it much thought. My thought has been today's game."
He admitted before Saturday's late afternoon game with the Royals that "I'm looking forward to something that I assume is gonna be pretty special."
If the usually stoic Jeter follows form, after he acknowledges his family and other important people during his career, he largely will forego sentimentality and frame his speech around the team's continued push to make the postseason. He might even evoke some form of Yogi Berra's "It ain't over till it's over" mantra.
Berra, health permitting, likely will be in attendance. So will Joe Torre and former Core Four mates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. The Yankees said there will be two "surprise guests."
Jeter will step to the microphone at the end of the approximately one-hour event and, in the footsteps of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, assume his place in Yankees immortality.
Jeter has had many ovations in his career, but all will be surpassed by a generation ready to show its appreciation for 20 years and five World Series titles. There will be more games for Jeter, but it is not known if he will speak to the crowd on Sept. 25, when the Yankees host the Orioles in their final home game of the regular season.
The Yankees traditionally have showered their retiring stars with trips, cars and diamond rings. Is there a grander plan in store for the most beloved Yankee since Mantle? The club isn't saying, and Jeter said he has been told nothing about the ceremony.
Clearly, Jeter is not ready to let go. "It's still odd because I'm trying not to think that the end is getting closer," he said. "But I'm constantly being reminded of it, asked about it, and you can't help but think about it a little bit."
Jeter has said he yearns to make the playoffs so "I [won't] know when my last game will be."
Jeter often has been asked how he will handle his closing remarks. It has not been his style to read speeches. He spoke extemporaneously on closing night of the old Yankee Stadium in 2008.
"Sometimes when you speak from the heart, it comes across even better than if you prepare something," he said. "I had an idea of what I wanted to say [that night]. They took me out with two outs in the ninth inning. I just thought about it and said what I felt.
"You have ideas of what you want to do, but I always think things come across better if you just say it from the heart. A prepared speech is when you start fumbling, you lose track of what you are saying. I just try to speak about how I feel at that particular time."
Jeter's teammates wonder how he will react. "I think inside he will be emotional," Mark Teixeira said. "Derek does a great job of not showing his emotions. There's no doubt he'll have those emotions. Whether he shows them or not is yet to be seen. It's going to be a great day for Derek. We're going to try and thank him for everything he's done the last 20 years."
Yankees catcher Brian McCann watched Chipper Jones' final season with the Braves. "It was something I'll never forget,'' he said. "You see the great ones go out on their terms. It's cool to be a part of that. For me, I'm just glad that I'm going to have a front-row seat for it with Derek.''
Don Zomer, Jeter's high school coach at Kalamazoo Central in Michigan, believes his former player will find the right words.
"I think he'll approach it very positively, he'll thank everyone,'' Zomer said. "He always seems to say the right thing at the right time. I don't really think we'll see any tears.
"Is he going to miss the game of baseball? Absolutely. What you see is Derek. His agenda has been to play the game he loves most. That's his agenda and he's pretty much stuck with that his whole career.''
Another person from Jeter's hometown, Kevan Hess, also will be watching. He received an autograph shortly after Jeter signed with the Yankees in 1992, and he thinks it might have been the first one Jeter signed as a pro.
Said Hess, "I was 5 years old and my dad says, 'There's Derek Jeter. He's going to be a star.' He couldn't have been any nicer.''
Hess later signed with the Tigers and made it to high Class A. When Jeter's high school renamed the field after Jeter in 2003, Hess encountered the shortstop. "He came up to me and said, 'I hear you are playing with the Tigers' and wished me luck.''
Jeter has thanked people along the way this season. With the Red Sox in town, he acknowledged Boston third-base coach Brian Butterfield, who helped Jeter recover from his error-prone season in 1993 with the Yankees' Class A team in Greensboro, North Carolina.
"Butter broke everything down for me, he spent a lot of time with me,'' Jeter said. "I wouldn't be where I am right now if it wasn't for him.''
Said Butterfield, "I'm honored to have crossed paths with him. He's impacted my life far more than anything I have done for him.''
R.D. Long was a teammate of Jeter's in Greensboro and the two remained close, with Jeter attending Long's wedding several years ago. For those expecting Jeter to shed tears, Long said, "They'll be waiting.''
Jeter did wistfully reference his impending retirement when he spoke in July about Gehrig's farewell speech 75 years ago. "All of us can only do this particular job that we do for so many years,'' Jeter said. "I don't care how good you are. There is a clock on how long you can play this game . . . ''
And now the time is near.
With Arthur Staple