Everyone remembers their first game. Mine was a Saturday afternoon in July. The year was 1996 and the New York Yankees were in first place. It was Old Timers' Day in the Bronx and I was next to my Dad.
Seeing the greatest Yankees getting introduced was amazing. Joe DiMaggio was there to throw out the first pitch. Reggie Jackson hit a home run in the Old Timers' game. And there were two future Hall of Famers in uniform for the current Yankees that day. Derek Jeter was more than halfway through a season that would win him Rookie of the Year honors. Maybe everyone expected great things from the No. 2 overall pick four years prior. But out in the bullpen was a lanky young reliever named Mariano Rivera.
Almost fifteen years have passed since my first game. I have been to dozens more and the Yankees have been dominant. Perhaps the two biggest reasons have been Jeter and Rivera.
Everyone started bringing up this "Core Four" in '09. Andy Pettitte left for the Houston Astros after '03. Some say if he was there in '04 the Yanks don't collapse against Boston. As much as I love Pettitte as a fan, he brought back negative press and a steroid admittance. Jorge Posada, meanwhile, has been the epitome of a compiler from the day he got here. Think of the big hits throughout his career. Try to get to your thumb. It's not happening.
Jeter is starting to show his age. If anyone deserves a pass, though, it is the Captain. Sixteen hits is all that separates Jeter from 3,000 hits. No Yankee has ever achieved the feat. By the time his career ends, Jeter will be in the top 10 of career hits leaders. Of course this means an automatic entrance into Cooperstown. But Jeter has had a career full of memorable moments.
The first game I went to this season me and my brother were talking about Jeter in '06. Ten years after winning ROY honors, Jeter had his best season. Somehow Justin Morneau won the American League MVP. He was given 15 first-place votes while Jeter got 12. It just seemed Jeter carried the Yankees that season. When the playoffs began Jeter stayed hot. He was already 4-4 in game one against the Tigers in the eigth inning. There were deafening "MVP!MVP!MVP!" chants in the old Stadium. The new Stadium has never felt like the old one. This moment was the perfect example with Jeter in the batters box with one out. Then Jeter hit a bomb to dead center almost hitting the black seats. 5-5! Moments like this are why Jeter is not just another guy with 3,000 hits.
If Jeter is the Captain, Rivera might as well be the Pope. Since '96, Mo has earned the reputation as the greatest closer of all time. He has 573 career saves, just 28 shy of Trevor Hoffman's 601. Life after Rivera is starting to become a reality as every Yankee fan can see the writings on the wall.
Posada should be retiring soon. The Captain only has a few more years left. Rivera has to be close to the end, right? He has had some rocky moments this season but remains a force in all the land. As long as Rivera is the Yankees' closer they have an advantage nobody else does. Every closer in the league throughout Rivera's career has been better known for the times he choked than when he succeeded. Not Rivera.
If you want to feel the closest thing to the force Rivera possesses it is quite simple. Go to Yankee Stadium and hope he comes in the game. "Enter Sandman" starts playing almost as a cue for the game ending even though Rivera has not thrown a pitch yet. The only thing remotely close to this feeling was Hulk Hogan's entrance at Madison Square Garden during WWF's heyday. Rivera's entrance was a better feeling in the old Stadium though. The bigger, more spacious new Stadium has sent the real fans to the land of "Far Far Away." We are still screaming but too much distance and empty seats separates us from the field. You'll get goosebumps, though, and be able to tell all your friends you saw greatness. The best closer ever.
The Captain and the "Pope" are still playing for the Yankees. This may be the twilight parts of their careers but the Yanks are still in first place with the "True Two" there through it all since 1995. There when it started. There when it will end. The world can't end as long as Jeter and Mo are on the Yanks.
As for my first game. The Yanks beat the Royals 5-4. Jeter was 2-4 with a run scored. Rivera pitched two innings where he struck out two, walked three, and gave up one hit while picking up his 20th hold of the season.