That was the state of fans stunned and saddened by the news that Yankees captain Derek Jeter’s 20th season with the team would be his last.
“There’s going to be a lot of heartbroken people,” predicted executive assistant Liz Rutigliano, 61, a Seacaucus fan who counts herself among the bereft.
After closer Mariano Rivera’s retirement last year, news of Jeter’s departure was especially unwelcome. “We’re dead. We’re just dead without those two,” moaned Rutigliano.
Fans acknowledged that Jeter had been hurting since fracturing his ankle in 2012, that few professional athletes manage to press beyond Jeter’s age of 39, and that he deserved a rest. It was just hard to accept that a man who was the heart and face of their favorite team for almost two decades would no longer take the field.
Mike Grant, 45, from the University Heights area of the Bronx, reacted to the news of Jeter’s retirement as if he’d been apprised of a loved one’s death.
“Jeter is my boy! I love him! I love the way he plays!” cried Grant, who lauded the champ’s ability to master multiple tasks in baseball with grace.
Further, said Grant, Jeter was a fantastic captain with a gift for inspiring and helping a team cohere. In an era of endless athletic scandals, Jeter seemed a drama-free athlete with integrity, which made Grant — “I’m a die hard fan!” — proud. “What he did that I liked the most? He did so much for kids. He’s into a lot of charities and really cares about kids,” said Grant. (Jeter founded the Turn 2 Foundation in 1996 to reward academic achievement and deter kids from drug and alcohol abuse.) The Yankees, said Grant, “will always be my team, no matter what, but they really have to get someone now who is into winning: Someone like him.”
Grant, a sales associate in a sporting goods store, predicted that shirts with Jeter’s name would fly off the shelves as soon as the spring merch arrived. “If he’s retiring, his shirt will be history. We’re going to make a lot of money with his shirts — trust me,” said Grant.
Some New Yorkers were sad about Jeter’s departure for reasons that had nothing to do with sports or his particular performance. Jeter, said Nisha Saintelus, 26, of Flatbush, “is fine. He’s sexy! I’m not a fan, but if he’s not on the Yankees, that means he won’t be on TV and I’ll have no one to crush on,” she sighed.
Many fans were in denial, or hoped the Yankees would find a place for Jeter off the field. “He’s going to stay with the organization and the organization will build on his experience,” said Nick Nikolis, 57, a contractor who lives across from Yankee Stadium.
Rutigliano, too, believed that No. 2 would have an Act II. “I want him to stay in baseball,” said Rutigliano. “He’d be a phenomenal manager. Phenomenal!” she said.