Friday, September 26, 2014

The Greatest to Have Ever Done It

I sat in the break room of the tiny 22-bed emergency department in Berkeley, California; 2,906 miles down the road (at the other end of the freeway) from where my heart and soul were. Leftover lemon chicken and pineapple fried rice sat cooling in front of me as I stared at my phone with tears streaming down my face. It was over. Derek Jeter's final game in Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter had played his last game as shortstop for the New York Yankees. And there were pictures and video clips of him taking the field for the final time, crouching in the position that's been his for the past twenty years. Of the double from his first at bat, the go-ahead run he was responsible for in the 8th, the walk-off single to end the game, and of Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Joe Torre being in the dugout to close it out. And I just cried. It could not have been more perfect. It was like it was scripted. God is most assuredly a Yankee fan.

I have been in love with Derek Jeter since the summer I turned fourteen years old. There are SO many memories. The flip, the dive, the Mr. November homerun, the championships, the speaches, the milestones. But it's more than that. It's more than the combined sum of the pieces of history I've witnessed in person and via the media. Sure it's pretty great that the first pitch of a Major League Baseball game I ever saw live was hit by Derek Jeter over the left field fence at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, CA. It's great that the last game that I saw at the old Yankee Stadium was the last Yankee-RedSox game to be played there. It's great that I saw a game at the new stadium this year and pondered that he still looks the exact same as the first game I saw on TV as a 14 year-old girl. Seriously, look it up. The jump-throw, the stance, every single nuance. Even today. Did you see the photo of him jumping in the air after the walk-off single? Tell me that he looks different than the photo of him jumping in celebration at the end of the 1996 world series. He doesn't. The photos are interchangeable. But I've learned more from Derek Jeter than the way baseball should be played. It's more than his talent and the intangibles and the off-the-field professionalism. It's how to live a life.

The first couple years of college I read the book he wrote in 2001, The Life You Imagine: Life Lessons For Achieving Your Dreams. And it changed my life. Seriously. It's on the short list of three books that have changed my life. And I've read a LOT of books. From this book I got the quote that is still at the bottom of my email signature to this day: "Dreams become realities when you love what you do." From this book I learned, as Derek Jeter's father told him, there will most always be someone better than you, but there is NEVER an excuse for someone to work harder than you. I learned that the way you do everything you do is important. He talks about how he didn't care if he was a garbage man, a plumber, or a tv repair man he would want to be the best there was at that position. He spoke of the things he learned from watching a cable repairman at his house as a young boy. He had no aspirations to be such, but he learned the value of hard work and the desire to be the best at whatever he was doing. He talks about how that man made him a better baseball player, just by being the best at what he was. You can learn something from every person you come across in life. Don't be too good to learn something from someone in a different station of life than you. I expect a lot. Of people, of things, of situations. It causes a lot of angst at times, because expectations can ruin an experience if you're not in control of the outcome. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I think this is part of why I'm such a big Yankee fan to be honest. They don't only demand perfection, they expect it. They expect to win the world series every year, and as Derek Jeter has said repeatedly in this book and elsewhere, if we didn't win the world series, the season was a failure. Why would you want to be ok with second place? Why would you want to be ok with pretty good? Perfection. Don't ever let yourself settle for decent. Don't ever aim for having a wining season, or making it to the playoffs or even making it to the world series. If you're going to aim for something, set a goal to win the world series. If that's not your goal every single year, get out of the game. Sure you can have a good season and not win the world series, but having a good season and having a failed season are not mutually exclusive. Derek Jeter expects to get a hit every single time he's at the plate. Every time. In a game where you can fail to get a hit 70% of the time and still be among the elite, many wonder why you'd expect to get a hit every time you're at the plate. Well, if you don't expect to get a hit every time you're at the plate, you might as well stay in the dugout and tell them to skip your turn. You know it's not going to happen every time, but that doesn't mean that you expect yourself to fail. Do you see the difference? He talks about how he wants the ball hit to him every single play. He wants to be the one at bat with the game on the line every single time. If you don't want the ball hit to you every play, why are you on the field? If you don't want the chance to be the hero at the plate with the game on the line, why are you playing the game? The big moments are why you play the game. Don't shy away from, don't take them as they come, seek them out, hope for them, expect them to be yours.

*editing note* Just watched the post-game interview ... did you see it?!  In the entire career of Derek Jeter I have not seen him cry once. And I haven't missed a moment of Derek Jeter's career. He teared up several times during the game, and welled up during the post-game interview. He was talking about feeling sentimental for the first time in his career when they took the field in the first inning. And then his voice cracked as he told how he heard the fans chanting "Thank you Derek" and he thought "What are you thanking me for? I was just doing my job. It's the fans that have made this amazing." I love this man. And yes, I'm crying again.

Don't bother setting a goal if it's not to be the best, go the farthest, do the most. And if you fail once, set the goal again next go-round. Don't accept less than perfection because of previous failures. Pick yourself up, work your hardest all over again, and aim for perfection every time. Don't ever set a goal to be okay at something. To be mediocre. Don't set a goal to just make it through your shift. Set a goal to change someone's life. He talked about the pressure of being Derek Jeter and that he played every moment of every game so that no one could say he didn't try hard enough. He spoke of how he wanted people who came to the stadium to see him play be able to say --even if he didn't get a single hit that day-- "but did you see the way he ran the grounder to the seond-baseman out?" He didn't want to not give 100% at any single second.  I read this book so many times that chunks of pages are falling out. The corners are all dog-eared, and the highlight marks and margin notes are fading. I read the book for motivation repeatedly to get me through a very trying nursing program when I felt like I was drowning every day and didn't know if I had what it took to make it through --to keep me motivated not to just get through but to be the best. And most days making it through felt iffy. That didn't mean the goal was not perfection though. It was never my goal to just make it through. Making it through was TOUGH but I wanted to make it through and be the best. As I was on stage at graduation receiving the award for expert clinician (the only one of my entire graduating class) I literally though of this book, and the ways that it helped me reach this point. I read the book several more times as I was becoming a new nurse and then a new nurse in the emergency department --fulfilling my dream. I was the best CNA and LPN and RN I could be every day, and no one worked harder than I did every day. And when I need a bit of motivation still to this day, I remember the lessons I read repeatedly in the beginning of my career -the lessons I learned while I was achieving my dreams. Derek Jeter made me a better nurse. Which sounds crazy unless you get it. Seriously. Read the book people. If I don't expect to get each IV on each attempt -every time- I have no business being in that room. (see end of last paragraph)

And so I cry. I cry because Derek Jeter happened. And it was amazing. The whole career. I cry because it's ending. And I cry because there will never be another baseball player to match what Derek Jeter is and has been for the last twenty years. 

Because Frank always says it best and there could not be a song more fitted to Derek Jeter...

And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and ev'ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way,
"Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way! (My Way lyrics -Frank Sinatra)

Farewell, Captain. You'll be missed.