On Monday, Derek Jeter will step onto the field of Yankee Stadium for his final home opener as a professional baseball player. In February, the shortstop announced his retirement on Facebook
, saying the 2014 season will be his last.
"It's his turn now. He has done a lot for baseball fans
, especially Yankee fans," photographer Anthony Causi
told PEOPLE of Jeter's departure. "He wants to be a regular guy."
Causi would know. The native New Yorker has spent his entire life cheering for the Yankees and the past decade photographing the team's captain. Assigned to the Yankees early in Jeter's career, Causi has witnessed and captured the athlete's brightest moments
and biggest challenges from only a few feet away.
The job has left Causi with goosebump-inducing stories about the Captain's career. As he starts his final season with Jeter, Causi shares some memorable moments with PEOPLE.
Jeter's Greatest Hits
Before Jeter planned his goodbye to the Yankees, he bid farewell to the team's original stadium. During the final game at the old Yankee Stadium, Jeter delivered an off-the-cuff speech for the fans filling the seats. It was this outpouring of genuine emotion that stands as one of the greatest memories of Causi's life, both as a fan and as a professional.
Causi's heart nearly leaped from his chest as he watched Jeter jump into the stands for a catch during a 2004 game against the Boston Red Sox. The ball ended up going foul, making Jeter's dive, and the resulting injuries, unnecessary. To the photographer, it is an example of how the athlete "is ready to do anything for the game, especially when he thinks it's a crucial moment."
After years of watching Jeter succeed, it's nearly impossible to watch The Captain crumble. Causi still cringes recalling Jeter's ankle break during the 2012 season. "I was directly on him in midfield that night," the photographer recounted. "The look on his face, when you know he has never felt more pain in his life, just puts a lump in your throat."
A Champion on the Field
"Jeter doesn't walk onto the field – he floats," said Causi. "The Captain gives a look and a salute with a stiff hand that goes from the brim of his cap straight down to the ground. I don't care if you are the biggest Yankee fan in the world or the hardest pencil-pushing journalist, you feel his presence and he brings the fan right out of you."
For a sports photographer, Jeter is a dream job: a talented player with a genuine appreciation for the craft of baseball. This dedication caused "everyone to gravitate toward photographing him," said Causi. "When you watched Jeter, you knew he was going to pull that great play for you. His scissor kick off of second, that is the Mount Everest picture, and he always delivers."
And off the Field
Scissor kicks and playmaking are part of Jeter's appeal, but Causi believes it's the way the player treats his fans that has turned him into a legend. During this year's spring training, Jeter visited a Panama City hospital with former fellow Yankee Mariano Rivera.
"Following Jeter into that hospital was like following Elvis," Causi said of the trip. "There was a sea of people. Everyone – orderlies, even doctors – were coming up to him with a baseball asking him to sign it." But Jeter was really there for the children, all eager for the new toys the player had in tow.
"They were so happy to get a toy," Causi remembered. "They looked up to him like a god."
Among the children was a boy who lost a finger, and as a result was having trouble putting together his present. Taking note of the situation, Jeter knelt down beside the boy and spent the next 20 minutes working through the toy's Spanish instructions.
"He wouldn't leave until the entire toy was put together and working," Causi remembered.
To the photographer, these memories are a small representation of what makes Jeter a champion on and off the field. Accordingly, Causi feels like one of the luckiest sports fans in the world.
"After he takes his final at bat and says his goodbyes and all of the photos have been taken and articles have been written, it's going to be a honor to say I covered his career," said Causi. "I look forward to the day when my child asks me what it was like to cover one of the greatest Yankees, and I can break out the photographs and tell the story as both a photographer and a fan."
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