By Matthew Johnson, Sports Editor
Early last week, former New York Yankee Derek Jeter made his first notable interview since his retirement last September. The former shortstop, who gracefully roamed Yankee Stadium for nearly twenty seasons, inspiring a generation of players and fans, stated in an interview with Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio that he is not missing baseball that much in retirement. As someone who had idolized Jeter for as long as I remember watching baseball, I was taken back by the words of the former Yankee captain.
Yet, after thinking about the career of a professional athlete, especially the likes of an iconic figure like Derek Jeter, I understood what Mr. November stated. Pequannock, New Jersey’s favorite son had been in the spotlight under the ever-burning Bronx microscope since 1995. His exploits on and off the field, which have been monitored for nearly two decades, would place Jeter in the same breath of both Joe DiMaggio and Don Juan. Baseball to “Number two, Derek Jeter, Number two,” has been the sweetest escape from the burdens of dealing with the hurdles of being not just an athlete, but a professional athlete.
For the longest time, when I watch the deeds of Jeter and other athletes, I am emotionally killed and revived throughout the contest of a game. Not only am I a fanatic of sports, I was, and still am, a die-hard. Each time my team falls in defeat, it is as if my heart has died hard, and I feel it. During my youth, when I treated athletes like deities and so wished to be one of them, it was the only thing in which my childhood exuberance was completely invested. And this was because, like Mr. Jeter, I, and countless others, used sports to emerge in another world.
And this love of sports was decades in the making. When classmates were playing video games after school, I was filling in baseball scorecards during the postseason run like I was the most gray-haired of scorekeepers. I so enjoy studying the history of sports. I am truly engulfed by the ever-changing strategies, the larger than life legends, and the moments which shaped the sports I love and cover today. Looking back at the shadows left behind by the athletic feats of yesteryear, I am enlightened by the tales which seem so storied and legendary, they are like truthful myths.
In my 21 years of history, sports have led me to the highest of ecstasies and deepest of depressions. And though this is probably not the healthiest of patterns, I simply adore this cycle which comes with victory and defeat. Sports, like music or visual arts, is one of the world’s greatest escapes. When I cry and yell and throw things watching an NFL game on Sunday, it is when I am most relaxed. And as I seek to print this journal of the diary of a mad sports fan, those who may not follow athletic competition may not understand this juxtaposition.
In such a complex world, hell, a complex state, college and household, sports can be the carrier and elevator of a fickle and sensitive mind state. Sports is one of the few institutions, which due to its brotherly essence, which routinely accomplishes this feat. While I always seek to be aware of ongoing and crucial issues in political, national and world affairs, personally, reading these stories, especially in an ever-dividing political landscape, it is simply dispiriting.
My spirit actually feels stripped when I usually read about a petty political problems or other depressing news story. And it is at this moment, I may temporary toss away such disheartening news by picking up the sports section of the newspaper or changing the channel to a baseball game.
Sports, though a competition where one wins and one losses, it is a kinship. Outside of outliers such as Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali , even the most bitter of rivals, from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Soxs to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, have mutual respect. While a contest in the moment is extremely heated, when the game clock blinks zeroes, the competitors understand, it is just a game. And as much as they want to soundly beat their opponent on the field, sports is a collective brotherhood where after the game, you shake hands and say “good game.” This is because, though you may dislike one another, you each love the game you are playing.
And as I seek to reflect on a youthful history which seems to have ended too quickly, I have trouble remembering much. But I remember watching the way Derek Jeter pumped his fist after a victory or his quirky batting stance as the bat hovered over his head. I remember watching Peyton Manning orchestrating a Colts offense like he was the most grand of maestros with audibles and hand signals as his baton. I remember repeatedly emulating a Kobe Bryant jumper until the street lights came on. I am unashamed to state my undying love for sports, for sports, in this world of harsh beams of sunlight, is a cool glass of water, quenching my thirst and keeping me going for whatever is thrown at me.