Touching All the Bases

Gatorade Ad Captures What Derek Jeter Really Means to New Yorkers

It's almost enough to make a Red Sox fan sentimental about Derek Jeter's impending retirement, and we probably don't need the almost.

Gatorade released a 90-second advertisement/homage to their longtime endorser and iconic Yankees shortstop, and it's so perfect where so many of the other tributes to Jeter have been flawed.

It's not about claiming he's the Face of Baseball, or applying some intangible power to his talent because his 3,000-plus hits and five championships aren't mementos enough of his brilliance.

It's certainly not about Nike's lucrative re2spect (respe2t? I never know where to put the bleepin' 2) campaign, which was so saccharine that repeated viewings are rumored to cause diabetes.

It's about taking us to the Bronx and showing us why Jeter matters, and why Yankees fans will miss a .249-hitting 40-year-old shortstop so much. Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk put it perfectly:

In the ad, shot in black and white and all of New York's shades of gray, Jeter is riding in the back of a swanky SUV, taking in all of the sites that you suspect he's noticing more than ever in the final days of his career.

After noticing some kids playing stickball, with Yankee Stadium visible in the distance, he tells the driver: "You know what? I'll walk from here."

So Jeter walks. And shakes hands, and signs autographs, and chuckles effortlessly. Most of all he makes people smile -- especially, but not exclusively, kids. For someone perceived as detached, he makes it look easy, comfortable.

It reminds you, fleetingly, of how the accessibility of superstars has changed over the generations. The idea of playing stickball with the neighborhood kids, as New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays was known to do in the '50s, must seem impossible and unattainably appealing to Jeter. It sure seems like something he would have loved to do.

The ad brilliantly brings out the personality of someone who draws raves for his sense of humor from those who know him, but has been as brilliant in guarding his privacy as he is at playing baseball. We've seen a little more candor, a larger glimpse into his life, as the days have waned; hell, we know his coffee habits now.

So what if the ad is just that, an ad, for a sugary beverage? It doesn't have to be entirely authentic, and it wasn't. Some of River Avenue was roped off according to an enlightening how-this-happened story in AdWeek. Jeter even helped write some of the copy. [Gentleman with remarkably calm eyes steps onto the sidewalk, hands woman gift basket ...]

The important aspect was authentic: The fans' reaction to Jeter, and Jeter's reaction to them.

There's even a subtle acknowledgement of his detachment, when he turns into a sports bar of some note. "So this is Stan's,'' Jeter says.

"We've been waiting for you to come in since '98 at the least,'' says a bar employee who is presumably named Stan.

Jeter, with a perfect, friendly deadpan: "You never invited me."

Stan: "Well, you're here now."

Not for much longer. Jeter is finally saying hello even as he says goodbye. But no one seems to mind. They're just meeting him, and it's a thrill. But they all felt like they knew him for years.

I should note that the music helps too: Frank Sinatra's "My Way" is the perfect song choice for the player, city and team.

The song was Jeter's choice.

You have to give it to him. He is self-deprecating amid the fawning.

Even he knows Sinatra has way better range.

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