(BaseballStL) — Derek Jeter’s historic career is a long and winding road. Improbably, it’s wound through St. Louis for a series only one time in his 20 seasons.
The future Hall of Famer played in Busch II in 2005, a three game set that saw him hit .385 in 14 at bats. Since then his only stop in St. Louis was the 2009 All Start Game.
His farewell tour has brought him back to Baseball Heaven, and the 39-year-old shortstop is well aware of the game’s importance in St. Louis.
“There’s a lot of history a lot of tradition,” he said. “This is a baseball town, everywhere you go you see Cardinals stuff.”
Monday’s afternoon game plays host to a healthy smattering of blue, grey and white as well, as Yankee fans lined up hours before the gates opened at Busch. Part of his final trip through the major leagues has been a farewell to fans across the country. City by city, the Yankee captain has been greeted by adoring fans, some who have watched him since the first time they picked up a baseball.
“It’s much appreciated. It’s not something that’s expected,” he said in the visiting dugout Monday. “I don’t go in anticipating anything, but the way the fans have treated me pretty much everywhere we’ve gone is something I’ll always remember. It’s been overwhelming at times.”
Fans in the Gateway City have a legendary infielder of their own in Ozzie Smith, who left the league as Jeter entered it. Still, the 13-time All Star said the two have talked plenty over the years, with the Wizard serving as an reference point for longevity and success in a game that is designed to make both a challenge.
“He’s a guy that I admire, I admire his career,” Jeter said. “When you’re a young guy you remember how guys treat you, and Ozzie treated me well.”
Some of those young guys are now in the Cardinal clubhouse, and will get a chance to play against their childhood idol.
Kolten Wong, the slick-fielding Cardinal second baseman, spent his childhood watching Jeter light up the Bronx.
“It’s the Yankees, and to top it all off we get to play against Derek Jeter for his last hurrah,” Wong said. “It’s going to be an awesome experience especially for someone who grew up idolizing Derek Jeter like I did.”
Wong was five years old when Jeter debuted in the majors. As the five-time Gold Glover rose to star, then superstar, then legend, Wong played his way through Little League and beyond, taking notes the whole way.
“You never see Jeter getting talked about in any bad way. He always does everything right,” he said. “He’s a true big leaguer and professional and that’s what all of us in here strive for.”
While Wong may have had a Jeter glove growing up, Mike Matheny debuted one year earlier than the career Yankee. Though their careers took different paths, Matheny spoke highly of his former contemporary, calling him a great ambassador for the game.
“He’s got a lot to be proud of. What impresses us most is the consistency and how he continues to go about it and always has,” he said. “A real pro. A guy who plays the game the right way all the time.”
Matheny’s post-playing time has been spent on the other side of the game, managing for his former team. For Jeter, he may be around baseball in some fashion, but it won’t be up close if he can help it.
“I’d like to be a part of an ownership group and call the shots, but that’s about it for me. I wouldn’t coach or manage. That’s too much travel,” he said, speaking about his plans for retirement. “Enjoying myself. I’m making no plans. I think that’s the best plan to have is no plan.”
The Cardinals presented Jeter with two custom Stan Musial cuff links and a $10,000 donation to his Turn 2 Foundation.