When I was seven years of age, my family took a trip to New York City and the Bronx to go explore the city and “The Bronx Zoo”, which is better known as the original Yankee Stadium. But, I would have never guessed that I would’ve gotten to meet my childhood idol, “The Captain”. As I wandered down the aisle of stairs to the Yankee dugout, I would have never guessed that Derek Jeter was there waiting for me.
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My family and I arrived at the beautiful Yankee Stadium for a late July contest. I distinctly remember it being extremely hot and muggy that evening as the sun was falling. I was wide-eyed and in awe of just about everything that day. Even though I was only seven years old, I knew a great deal of Yankee history. From Jim Leyritz to Mariano Duncan, I knew them all. But, my favorite player at that age was the one and only Derek Jeter, who is arguably the greatest shortstop who has ever played the game of baseball.
My family, consisting of my mother, father, and sister all approached our seats and proceeded to get settled in for our long night consisting of baseball. It was a little past 6 PM, and there was still about an hour until the first pitch was thrown. We took our seats and watched the Minnesota Twins take batting practice. My father, the person responsible for providing me with my endless passion for baseball, continued to urge me to take a stroll down to the Yankee dugout to see if I could get an autograph from any of the Bronx Bombers. At that age, I was extremely timid of breaking the rules, considering my family and I were staring at an employee of the stadium guarding the aisle leading to the dugout. My father ensured me that everything would be okay. I staggered my way from my seat down the aisle. I approached the guard.
“No one passed this point, kid. Sorry,” the guard said with his arms out to block me from preceding.
Embarrassed and dejected, I looked up at him. He looked back down at me. We stood there idling for another handful of minutes, arms still fully-extended blocking the access point to the path that led to the dugout.
And then, a miracle occurred. The guard lifted up his left arm, making an archway for me to sneak through. I bolted down the stairs and looked back at him. He smiled at me. I grinned back at him and breathed a sigh of relief.
I made my way down to the Yankee dugout. My heart felt like it was going to make the great leap from my chest onto the cement stairs. I leaned on the padded railing separating dugout from the bleacher seats looking into the dugout. I had no idea what I had done until one day my dad looked at me and said passionately, “Jeep, you leaned on the same railing that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Lou Gehrig leaned on. That is unbelievable.”
There he was: Derek Jeter. He was literally standing right in front of me. We caught eyes. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! Derek Jeter looked at me!” I thought. I could not fathom what I was witnessing with my own eyes. He started to walk towards me. I was shaking. I had a baseball and a marker clutched in my clammy hand. I reached the two items out and over the famed railing, and he grabbed both as he proceeded to sign the ball. I looked at him as he was placing his signature on the ball and thanked him ecstatically.
He looked up at me and said, “You’re welcome,” with his classic Derek Jeter smile.
He passed the ball back to me over the railing. I sprinted back to our seats to show my dad the incredible gift that I had received. When he saw it, he was just as bewildered and amazed as I was.
I looked at him with a smile ear-to-ear and said, “This is the greatest day of my life.”
To this day, I still have the ball signed by “Mr. November”. I will never forget that day, as it truly was one of the greatest days of my life, all thanks to Mr. Jeter himself. But, I also owe my father most of the credit for meeting Jeter because, without him, I would have never gathered the courage to even get up from my seat.
James “Jeep” DiCioccio