Baseball, better than every other sport, truly knows how to celebrate its greatest players. Sunday in the Bronx, the Yankees will provide another example when they immortalize Derek Jeter by retiring his number “2” and honor him with a plaque in their hallowed Monument Park.
It is fitting that A.J. Hinch will be on hand to witness the ceremony. It certainly won’t be the first time the Astros manager has paid tribute to Jeter.
In late September of 2014 Jeter was wrapping up a soon to be Hall of Fame career. Hinch, in the midst of interviewing with the Astros, decided he wanted to see one of his last games. He cashed in his airline miles and points, flew to New York, used his major league player’s pass to get inside Yankee Stadium, eventually making his way down on the field to say hello to Jeter.
“I think you pay tribute to legends you come across that you know,” Hinch explained. “I got to see one of his last games and I wasn’t going to miss it.”
The relationship began more than two decades prior when they were both high school stars, traveling the country as prized amateurs for showcases and tournaments. The families got to know each other well as their son’s advanced their prospect status. Jeter went the professional route, drafted by the Yankees with the sixth overall pick in 1992 after the Astros famously passed on him with the number one selection. Hinch matriculated to Stanford where he would twice be named the Pac-10’s Player of the Year.
Several years later Jeter was already established as a star when A.J. made his big league debut. In his second major league series with Oakland, Hinch reached second base and Jeter approached him. Hinch had lost his dad suddenly a few years prior.
“I am sorry to hear about your dad,” Jeter said.
“THAT, is Derek Jeter,” Hinch said.
Not one for memorabilia, Hinch admits he does have seven bats in his home. One is signed by all the members of Team USA that Hinch competed with in the 1992 Olympics in Atlanta. Another one belonged to Jeter.
A.J.’s Astros take the major leagues best record to New York this weekend to play a four-game series against baseball’s most storied franchise. Sunday’s ceremony honoring Jeter won’t be lost in a potential playoff match-up, especially to Hinch who calls the opportunity to be on hand, thrilling.
“Because of how special he (Jeter) was in an era that I have both gotten to play in and coach in,” he continued. “When you look back decade after decade, the type of impact players had, Derek was one of the best. He is symbolic of so many things that you would want out of players and what you want of our champions and for us to be there with some guys that are familiar with him and for our young guys, that didn’t get to play against him, it will be a memorable experience.”
Hinch and the Astros will have a great view. However this time, he won’t even have to cash in airline miles or talk his way onto the field.
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