For nearly two decades, he has been the son every parent wanted to have, the guy every woman wanted to date and the player every guy wanted to be. Derek Jeter has been the squeaky-clean face of the Yankees for so long that an entire generation of fans cannot remember what it was like to root for their team without him. But after only five more games, they will have to learn how; the Jeter era is scheduled to end Sunday in Boston.
In the record books, next year will be referred to as the 2015 baseball season. In the hearts of Yankees fans, it will be Year 1 AD.
What will this After Derek World be like? What will fans miss the most? What can be replaced? And what can't?
Those who have been a part of Jeter's incredible career -- or have had a front-row seat -- treasure different memories of Jeter. Yet all agree on one thing: It is Jeter's leadership, both on and off the field, that the Yankees will have the hardest time replicating.
Yankees radio announcer John Sterling, who has called every one of the 2,740-plus regular-season games and 158 postseason contests in which Jeter has played, said his "inspirational force'' is what the team will miss most.
"I don't know how you ever reproduce that,'' Sterling said. "Even if you went out and found someone who had his talent, you would never replace his heart and soul and toughness. They will miss all those things about Derek next year.''
No player is born an inspirational force, but it took Jeter only a year in the big leagues to become one. He hit .314 in the regular season in becoming a unanimous Rookie of the Year selection, and in the Yankees' 1996 postseason run to a title, Jeter defined what kind of player he was going to be for the next 18 years.
Joe Torre, Jeter's manager for his first 12 full seasons, remembers Jeter's first playoff game against the Texas Rangers, when the 22-year-old popped up with the bases loaded and left six men stranded in the Yankees' loss. After the game, reporter after reporter asked Torre what he was going to say to his rookie shortstop. Torre was just figuring that out when Jeter poked his head into his office.
"Mr. Torre. Get your rest,'' Jeter told him. "Tomorrow is the most important game of your life.''
Torre said he knew then and there what kind of player Jeter was going to be.
He would go on to have clutch hit after clutch hit in that postseason, the most famous being the drive that young Jeffrey Maier reached out and touched in Game 1 of the ALCS (it stood up as a home run that tied the score and put the Yankees in position to win in extra innings).
Jeter and Torre would win four titles together, and Torre would remember him this year as the best player he ever managed and a guy whose leadership will be difficult to replace.
"Leadership is something that has to be nurtured. It doesn't happen right away,'' Torre said last week. "Derek was very unusual. Someone like Derek doesn't come down the pike very often. To be at a young age very responsible and very comfortable in your own skin doesn't happen very often.''
Former Yankees teammate Tino Martinez recalled that although Jeter was deferential to older players, he behaved like a leader from the start. "He handled it so well from Day One. He was just a professional at the ballpark,'' Martinez said. "I don't know if I could have handled it at that age. As a rookie, he was like a five-year veteran. He was like a leader at that time without saying anything.''
Yankees radio color commentator Suzyn Waldman, who has covered the team as a reporter or broadcaster for the last 28 years, said the impact of Jeter's departure won't be fully comprehended until next year when he isn't in the clubhouse.
"When I started this job, I had never been in the clubhouse without Don Mattingly. Then, the year he was gone, I realized what he meant to everyone because there was this void,'' Waldman said. "Derek Jeter is one of those people. There's very few of them, but he's one of them. It's his presence. It's his constancy. It's the professionalism that he's never lost.''
Former teammate Paul O'Neill called Jeter the last link to the Yankees' most recent dynasty, adding that he is basically irreplaceable.
"It's going to be obviously some big shoes to fill. I don't think people expect another Derek Jeter,'' O'Neill said. "A five-time world champion, a 3,000-hit guy and all that he's brought to the team over the last 20 years? That's basically impossible. It really is.''
It is Jeter's relentless drive to get better that the team will miss most, former Yankees outfielder Gerald Williams said. A close friend of Jeter's, Williams believes that Jeter's desire to win and get better every day rubbed off on an entire generation of Yankees.
"He never wanted to take a play off. He always wanted to do his best,'' Williams said. "He always felt he could do more and wasn't satisfied. I think that's really good for people to witness.''
Said Jeter's fellow Core Four member Mariano Rivera: "I saw Derek play for 19 years in the big leagues and all I saw was determination and desire to be the best. I saw a man who always wanted to be the best for his team.''
Beyond desire, hard work and talent, Jeter had a unique ability to seize the big moment, which is something that differentiates him from all but the greatest of athletes and will be one of the hardest things for the Yankees to replace.
"It was as if in big moments, everything slowed down for Derek, which is why I thought he was able to perform,'' Waldman said. "For some people, it speeds up. But people like Derek and Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, it slows down. There aren't many players who can do that.''
Perhaps the hardest thing for the Yankees to replicate in the post-Jeter world is a likable superstar who can avoid any hint of controversy. Jeter's 20 seasons span a remarkable time in the history of sports, a time during which the explosion of social media has made it next to impossible to hide an off-the-field transgression.
"The most remarkable thing about Derek is that in 20 years, he has never said a wrong thing, never done a wrong thing, never made a misstep,'' Waldman said. "This is while playing in the largest media capital in the world.
"You can replace him? You can't replace him. Maybe there's somebody in the minors, but I don't know who . . . Who's going to be the captain? I don't know. Why do you need one? Whoever it is, it's not in this clubhouse. You don't replace that. I don't know that we're ever going to see someone like that again.''