I clearly remember the first day I set eyes on the new Yankee Stadium in the summer of 2009. Off the train with the crowd moving as one big mass down the stairs. Stepping out of the dingy stairwell into the bright sun. Crossing the street while dodging crazy traffic. Screaming vendors hawking their wares. The kind young man in his wheelchair selling candy. The NYPD strolling through the crowd keeping watch. All this amid the joyful sounds of excited fans arriving at Gate 6. The “wow factor” of the new stadium literally made me stop and just take in the moment of this new era in Yankee baseball.
After my daughter gifted me with a bright green Yankee hat to signify this fresh new season, my first purchase at the gift shop was an “officially licensed collectible pin” depicting a pinstripe jersey honoring #25, Mark Teixeira. He was new to the team, so I thought he was a great addition to the Yankees for his talent. But I also respected how he reflected a fine personal character.
And through his years in pinstripes, Teixeira has continued to reflect character, class, and sportsmanship. All qualities to be admired, not just in a baseball player, but also in life. Despite being plagued with injuries the last few years, “Tex” (as he was affectionately dubbed) continued to play each game 110%, with all that he had to give, and always with a positive attitude. As he stated to the media last week, “I gave you everything I had. It wasn’t always enough, but I tried my best.” Always the team player, always classy, the epitome of the kind of ball player that all Little Leaguers can look up to and aspire to be.
As for actual baseball statistics, Teixeira can be proud of that record as well. He has over 400 career home runs, participated in a Home Run Derby, was a three-time All Star, and awarded five Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and of course that 2009 World Series ring with the New York Yankees.
Outside baseball, Teixeira continues to give back to the community around the country. As a nod to his ties to Atlanta, first at Georgia Tech and then as player for the Braves, he became a board member and founding investor in an Atlanta non-profit group, the Emerald Corridor Foundation, that restores green spaces in inner-city neighborhoods for families and children to enjoy. In New York, Teixeira serves on the board of Harlem RBI that not only provides an opportunity to learn baseball, but also mentors kids by focusing on “teamwork, respect, diversity, promise, effort, integrity, and fun”. The group also offers opportunity for students to attend the Dream Charter School for further educational opportunities. Harlem RBI recently honored Tex as a positive role model and thanked him for his continued support.
Teixeira is such an integral part of the Yankees for so long that to imagine the team without him would seem like a valued part is missing. It appears now that the “Teixeira Era” is beginning to wind down. So it was with great sadness that I watched Teixeira tearfully announce his retirement at the end of this season in a press conference before Friday’s game. Tears flowed as he began to speak, warning the media that “Teixeiras are criers”, but that he is so grateful the he “got to live out his dream” of playing ball. The room hushed, yet supportive; the reporters gracious and patient, allowing him time to share his gratitude to the fans and to the Yankees. His fine character showed in the way he thanked everyone who was part of his time in baseball, including family, friends, fans, coaches, management, owners, and players all the way back to his days as a Little League player.
Declaring himself a Yankee fan forever, Teixeira said he was honored to wear the pinstripes for so many years, even calling the team “the greatest franchise in sports history”. He also thanked his wife Leigh (“my rock”) and his kids (“my three little cheerleaders”). After thanking his late mom for her support, he honored his dad, who taught him his foundational baseball skills, like how to switch-hit when he only 6 years old. But above all, Teixeira thanked God for the gift of being able to play ball and for always being there with him, in good times and bad.
Since his retirement announcement, the media and fans circulated so many descriptors of Teixeira: all-around player, good character, talented, hard-working, switch-hitter, world champion, team player, funny, kind, generous, family man, and a man of faith. It is this last descriptor that perhaps means the most to Tex. In an interview discussing his active faith, Teixeira firmly stated that God is the top priority in his life, both on and off the field. He credits his athletic ability as a God-given gift that allowed him to play the game he loves for so long.
While the Yankees will not be the same without Mark Teixeira and he will be much missed, I do see some of the same priorities, character, and talents in many of the younger players taking their place on the Yankee roster. So before this post gets too sad, it’s good to remember that the season isn’t over yet! There are still have several games left to see Teixeira play as part of this great New York team. So go to a game or two or fifty-one, and enjoy the season! And when Teixeira takes the field or comes up to bat, be sure to show him your appreciation for all he has done to represent the New York Yankees so well.
Thank you, Mark Teixeira!