What we sentimentalize in New York City is our lack of sentiment. We're sweet on our own ruthlessness, and the proof is in what we tear down. Stores. Restaurants. Churches. Every landmark is negotiable, every bit of history for sale, every institution movable or removable for a price. Nothing here is forever. Not even Derek Jeter.
At the very moment the Yankees won the American League East Wednesday night, when the score of the Orioles' loss was posted as a final and the roar came down all around him, Jeter looked only tired. With his arms draped over the dugout railing, he could have been an exhausted swimmer resting on the gunwale of a lifeboat.
He wore no emotion anyone could see, and later in the clubhouse, he said no more than the things you say when a reporter asks you to say something.
"This was difficult. Come into the last day of the season, nobody knows what's going on. We've been taking it one day at a time for quite some time," Jeter said. "It feels good."
One day at a time. Feels good.
At saying nothing, politely, he has batted 1.000 since the day he came up. That was 6,338 days ago.
Jeter is our sphinx, as fixed and inscrutable as those marble lions in front of the New York Public Library.
Eighteen seasons, 3,304 hits. Who knows how many starlets. Captain Intangibles in the City of the Damned. To reasonable people from anywhere else, New York is crazy, a bughouse -- an asylum, a hive, a slice of 99-cent pizza falling on a pair of $1,600 shoes. It's bike messengers and violinists, grime and Champagne. It's a Babel, a bad dream, a siren, a grinding of the teeth. It's that smell. It's horse carts and nightclubs and town cars and bridges. It's Trump and Jay-Z, The Times and the Post, three-card monte and the stock exchange. It's a Korean bodega in a Greek neighborhood run by 4 guys from Yemen. It's what America used to be before focus groups got hold of it.
But New York makes sense to New Yorkers. Our cops and firefighters all look and sound like cops and firefighters, and the daily parade up and down the avenue of our actors and junkies and account executives is straight out of central casting. The ballplayers all look like ballplayers and first among them is Derek Jeter. As much a part of the mind's skyline as the Flatiron or the Waldorf; as much a part of the tri-state subconscious as every car commercial they've ever bounced off your skull. Even if you hate baseball, he's as permanent an impermanence as most New Yorkers can imagine.
The only question is for how long?
New York City is a process. Walk your favorite block one morning and everything is gone, taken up overnight by age or taken down by politics or progress. The only constant here is dynamism, creation and destruction, the wrecking ball and the profit motive.
Is Derek Jeter the city's next big teardown?
The preservationist movement arrived late to New York City, and only after we'd demolished the most beautiful building in America, the original Penn Station. That was 1963. We traded a cathedral of glass and steel for a block-long sub-basement lined with doughnut shops. We've managed to save a few odds and ends since, but the impulse to flatten and build new -- especially if we can save money and raise rents -- is strong in us all.
Derek Jeter led the league with 216 hits and has the most popular jersey in baseball. He had a .316 season in a .313 lifetime. Derek Jeter can't move to the left or to the right? Neither can the Chrysler Building.
But there's only so much room on the roster, and Derek Jeter is 38 years old. When do you build a new shortstop?
From the time of the Dutch, New York City has been about ambition. And money. And if banking is appetite disguised as thrift, New York is a 400-year-old exercise in the new.
So, is Derek Jeter's New York future all behind him?
He's 952 hits behind Pete Rose. Lifetime all-time. Crazy to even talk about it. Crazy. Still. One day at a time.
He'll do it. He'll never do it. He'll do it here. He'll do it somewhere else. And in that moment New York City will love him or miss him or forget him perfectly and completely and commit him to its heart without ever knowing he's gone.