As always, Derek does it just right

Memories? Jeter delivered more than his fair share. The Opening Day homer in Cleveland as a rookie in '96, just weeks after one of George Steinbrenner's aides, Clyde King, lobbied for the overmatched kid to be demoted to the minors. The Jeffrey Maier homer. The World Series destruction of the Mets in 2000. The epic flip play a year later, his signature moment, the infield's answer to Willie Mays' over-the-head catch in the '54 World Series. The 5-for-5 day he had against Tampa Bay to become the first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits.

All from a teenager who used to cry himself to sleep in his rookie-ball hotel room because he thought he'd never make it as a big leaguer. Because he thought the Yankees had just wasted $800,000 and a first-round pick on him.

As it was, the Yankees lucked out in the amateur draft of 1992, when a Cincinnati Reds executive named Julian Mock decided his team needed a college slugger named Chad Mottola more than it needed the high school shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Mich., his scouts desperately wanted with the fifth pick.

Dick Groch, scout, was the first Yankees employee to predict greatness for Jeter, who had committed to the University of Michigan. Groch called him "the personification of athleticism." He called young Jeter, "Fred Astaire at shortstop."

When Groch's boss, Bill Livesey, asked if their potential pick at No. 6, Jeter, would end up going to Michigan, the scout barked the following:

"No, he's not. The only place this kid's going is Cooperstown."

Now Jeter is about to go down as one of the top 10 players in franchise history, and depending on how you keep score, maybe one of the top five. He will end up in Monument Park ASAP, and if Rivera isn't the first unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer, Jeter should be summoned from the bullpen the following year to take the honor for him.

No, he wasn't a perfect Yankee. Jeter could've been a better captain to Alex Rodriguez, back when A-Rod actually deserved a little support, and he could've been a stronger advocate within his union for stricter drug testing measures. Jeter could've done a better job forgiving and forgetting, too, as he could hold a grudge against opponents, teammates and media members he thought had slighted him.

But in the end, like Rivera, Jeter was closer to perfect than just about any Yankee before him.

Maybe that's why it seemed like he'd play forever. In 2007, Jeter told longtime Yankees executive and scout Gene Michael that he planned on sticking around another 10 years, and Michael wondered why there wasn't something else in life the shortstop wanted to do.

At last, Jeter grew tired of the constant pursuit of a parade. "I want to finally stop the chase," he wrote, "and take in the world."

Now Jeter wants to start a family. He wants to enjoy a summer vacation. He wants to devote more time to charitable causes and, at some point, he wants to own a team.

But before he moves on to his second life, Jeter wants to finish the first one with a sixth World Series ring. The odds are against it, just like the odds were always against Jeter reaching his oft-stated goal of matching Yogi Berra's 10.

He's done enough winning, anyway. And on his first big cut of his final season, Jeter hit one over the right-field wall. He followed up the Masahiro Tanaka news conference with a bombshell that made the Tanaka signing feel like a routine waiver-wire move.

Derek Jeter quit on his own before it was far too late, before the Yankees were left with no choice but to bum-rush him toward the exits. The shortstop who made a career out of making the right call made another one Wednesday. Of course he did.

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