This past weekend, Derek Jeter played his final major league baseball game.
You might be wondering why a statement like this belongs on a Disney-themed blog, but bear with me.
I’ve been watching Derek Jeter play baseball since I was a little kid, accompanying my family to Sunday home games at the old Yankee Stadium. I learned to keep score, traded high fives with the long-haired rockers who sat in front of us, and religiously ordering a bacon cheeseburger and Shirley Temple for lunch. My fondest memories of watching the team on the field before the game included Derek Jeter noticeably having a blast in the infield with Chuck Knoblauch. The funny thing is I never remember proclaiming him my favorite player or anything. Is it possible I took his dependability for granted? Maybe. But with my return to obsessive baseball watching, I realized more and more how much I appreciated and admired his work ethic, his ability to stay on the straight and narrow, and how much the word “team” meant to him. In a world where TMZ is shoving gossip and debauchery in our faces every day, Jeter steered clear of it all and let his career define how we saw him.
So it’s hard to believe his run as Yankees captain, shortstop, and all-around MLB all-star has come to an end. It wasn’t until the ceremonies and the articles in the last few weeks that I felt how final it all was. His dream had come true, as he said over and over again. He became a Yankee and now that dream was over. Nothing lasts forever; something we are reminded of every single day. Watching him take the field for the last time, step up to bat, run the bases, celebrate with his teammates, it’s difficult not to think about how about how different next year’s team will look. Let’s be real. It will be unrecognizable, and when I try to picture it all in my head, the faces and the results are so blurry. I was barely able to remember the names of the new guys this year. Without Jeter as the glue, what will we see on that field?
Jeter represents a lot more about my childhood than I realized. Those afternoon baseball games with my parents and sister are long gone. So are the years that we were dominating in the World Series and the days I had my own personalized scorecard (made by our seatmates) and plowed through a school-assigned book during the slower parts of the game. We cannot control when these things end, just as we can’t decide when Jeter would hang up his hat. It just happens and we are forced to move forward. For better or for worse.
With all the changes happening in Walt Disney World lately — the emotional snapshots of the long-employed performers leaving Epcot, the excitement of a new animated hit altering the purpose of World Showcase, and even a final nail in the coffin for Backlot Tour at DHS — I couldn’t help but realize how it was strangely connected to Jeter leaving. For so long, we have grasped these constants. We understand our surroundings because they exist and they are stationary. Whether it’s an object, a person, or an ensemble, we feel connected to it because of our memories and we don’t want to see them ever disappear (disappear, disappear).
But these are just the realities we have been dealt. Athletes get tired and want to go to summer BBQs on weekends, and a company must make changes to keep things fresh, to keep moving forward. Sure, there’s a big difference with Jeter because we had a year to prepare for his departure. It wasn’t sudden. We could catch him on TV during any one of his final 162 games. (Or at least, catch the highlights.) It’s not as easy to book a last minute trip to give a final farewell to the trolls at Maelstrom or escape Catastrophe Canyon one last time.
Like anyone else, I fear the unknown. Can any Yankees team replicate the magic they had with Jeter? Can anyone in baseball fill his shoes? No. Probably not. Just like Frozen’s new dark ride will always be the start of a new chapter for World Showcase and we might think fondly about Backlot Tour while walking around DHS (at least, back when a real cast member served as the tour guide and Residential Street was still a thing). While I still need time to mourn and next season will undoubtably be difficult, different does not necessarily have to mean worse either. It could mean falling in love all over again.