“You see the goalpost?” he asked, gesturing.
“Look to the right of the goalpost.”
Derek Jeter was able to point to the Cumberland Street house where he grew up in Kalamazoo, spying it from an area near home plate at Kalamazoo Central High School’s new baseball field.
Kalamazoo Central Principal Valerie Boggan, left, stands with baseball great Derek Jeter and his sister Sharlee during the Nov. 14, 2023 dedication of baseball/softball fields at the school.
“We would jump the fence for fun and for family time,” the former New York Yankees all-star said following the Tuesday morning dedication of Kalamazoo Central’s new $5 million baseball and softball fields. “My dad would throw me batting practice. My sister and my mom would be shagging (baseballs) in the outfield. And then we’d go over to the softball field and do the same for her (his sister). So we have a lot of memories here.”
On Tuesday, the talented young man who always dreamed of being the starting shortstop of the New York Yankees — then went on to realize that dream — returned to Kalamazoo and thanked his parents for always supporting him and his sister Sharlee. But he also thanked a host of planners, educators, builders, and others who helped make the new playing fields at his alma mater a reality. It is something that he says he hopes will help make the dreams of other youngsters come true.
Hall of Fame baseball greats Cal Ripken Jr. And Derek Jeter have a light moment during the Tuesday, Nov. 14, dedication of Kalamazoo Central's new baseball/softball fields.
“The baseball and softball fields are where many young people recognize their passion,” Jeter told about 200 school officials, students, reporters, and others who attended Tuesday morning’s dedication. “They realize their passions and learn how to overcome obstacles. I learned a lot of things that helped shape me as a player, but more importantly, as a person. And that’s work ethic, it’s passion, it’s family.”
Following a June 21, 2023, ground-breaking, the grass fields where Jeter played baseball and his sister played softball were replaced with state-of-the-art synthetic turf, and the layout of the fields was reorientated — with home plate facing northeast — to minimize the impact of the afternoon sun on players.
Derek Jeter cuts a ribbon at the dedication of the new baseball/softball complex at Kalamazoo Central High School. From left is: Steve Salem of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation; Sharlee Jeter of the Turn 2 Foundation: Jeter's Leaders students Sadaya Ham
The renovation includes precast concrete dugouts and aluminum bleachers, as well as galvanized fencing, backstops, and foul poles. It also includes new bathrooms and a new press box.
“This is a great day for our students,” said Darren Slade, superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools. “Lasting memories will be made. I want to just thank Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter, and the whole organization for making this happen.”
Ripken, who is a National Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop, is a legendary figure in the Baltimore area, playing for 21 years for the Baltimore Orioles. He is also co-founder of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which helped get the ball fields done here. The foundation is named for Ripken’s late father.
The grass fields that Derek Jeter and his sister played on at Kalamazoo Central High School have been replaced with synthetic turf.
As a native of Baltimore, who enjoyed the rivalry between The New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, Slade said, “Growing up, watching them on TV, I’m a big, big fan. It’s great to see them doing what they’re doing for the community and the students, not just in Kalamazoo, but across the country.”
When fully outfitted in 2024 with natural grass areas and scoreboards, the new ball fields will culminate more than 10 years of hoping and planning by the Kalamazoo Public Schools and Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.
Among the leadership-development efforts of Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation is Jeter’s Leaders. Members of the school-based program attended the Nov. 14, 2023 dedication of new baseball/softball fields at Kalamazoo. Enteral High School.
“Once we started moving on it, COVID happened,” explained Valerie Boggan, principal of Kalamazoo Central. “And the Jeter family did not want to work on the fields when there were people around the world struggling with other issues.”
But as the project nears completion, she said, “I think it’s a lesson. We’re always trying to show our children that the world has so much more to offer and that they have to invest in themselves in order to benefit from that.”
Harold Himmelman, chairman of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation awards Sharlee and Derek Jeter on Nov. 14, 2023, for their commitment to helping youth. In the background is Foundation CEO Steve Salem.
Derek Jeter has said he worked on himself over and over again, she said. So she wants young people to see more than just playing fields for baseball and softball players.
“There were life lessons learned here,” Boggan said. “There was a decision made by a family that they would do family activities here. There was a decision made by a son and by a daughter that they would go above and beyond, and do one more thing than what was expected.”
After that, they made the decision to give back to the community so other students could benefit, she said.
Jim Feltch, CEO of construction management firm Elite Cos., said that the company appreciates the opportunity to help empower young people by working with Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.
Steve Salem, president and chief executive officer of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, says that the Baltimore-based foundation became involved in the project about two years ago after learning about it through Sharlee Jeter, and through the ongoing friendship between Derek and Cal Ripken Jr. Sharlee is president of the Turn 2 Foundation.
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation partners with organizations throughout the country to build youth development parks, primarily to benefit at-risk youngsters. It used its expertise and resources, including its building partner Sports Fields Inc. of Atlanta, to help keep construction costs from becoming unwieldy during a time when building costs have been rising dramatically. The Kalamazoo project, which was overseen by the Elite Companies of Kalamazoo, is the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation’s 118 project in 28 states.
Cal Ripken Jr., who retired from baseball in 2001, visited Kalamazoo on Tuesday to see the project and to praise the efforts of Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.
Members of Kalamazoo Central’s softball team were among about 200 people at the Nov. 14 dedication of the school’s new baseball/softball fields. Coach stylus Ratliff is at the rear with cap.
“Work that the Turn 2 Foundation has done since 1996 is making a tremendous difference for kids nationwide,” Ripken said. “To be able to partner with him and his foundation to bring this amazing park to Kalamazoo is so special. Derek understands that as amazing as his accomplishments were on the field, the legacy he is building with the Turn 2 Foundation will even be more gratifying.”
Turn 2 Foundation is a nonprofit foundation that strives to help young people reach their potential by promoting leadership development, academic achievement, healthy lifestyles, and social change. Notably, the foundation oversees Jeter’s Leaders, a youth leadership and academic excellence program that engages high school students to achieve and succeed. Two of its members kicked off the ceremony and closed it.
A sight for baseball fans: National Baseball Hall of Fame members Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. stroll the new baseball field at Kalamazoo Central High School on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Ripken pointed out similarities between himself and Jeter, saying both were major-league shortstops who played their entire careers for one baseball franchise. Both were World Series winners. And each was named MLB Rookie of the Year at the start of their careers. But Ripken said another similarity is they each benefitted from having solid families that instilled a strong work ethic and encouraged them to give back to the communities in which they live.
The two competed against one another during the last five to six years of Ripken’s career, giving Ripken an opportunity to poke fun at Jeter. Ripken drew laughs when he said he still hasn’t gotten over the fan interference call (involving a 12-year-old boy) that was ruled to be a home run for Jeter during the first game of the 1996 American League Championship Series. The Yankees went on to beat the Orioles.
At the Nov. 14, 2023 dedication of the new baseball/softball fields at Kalamazoo Central are, from left: Dr. Charles and Dorothy Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Sharlee Jeter, and Sharlee’s son Jalen.
Kalamazoo Central Baseball Coach Scott Spada said the new fields mean, “We are going to have the opportunity to play on a top-notch field that is provided to us by two of the most unbelievable shortstops to ever play the game. It’s going to give the kids in the Kalamazoo community a chance to dream big, reach for the stars, and set goals that may seem unattainable for some.”
He said they can learn from the goal Jeter always set for himself. “It puts into reality the fact that our kids can achieve their goals as well,” Spada said.
School Board trustees Jermaine Jackson, with hat, and Patti Sholler-Barber, at right, were among about 200 people to attend the Nov. 14, 2023 dedication of new ball fields at Kalamazoo Central High School.
“Ever since I can remember, my dream has been pretty clear,” Jeter said. “I was going to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees. I worked extremely hard at it. And a lot of the work took place at Kalamazoo Central High School.”
Jeter, now 49, is a five-time World Series champion and a 14-time MLB all-star. He is the New York Yankees’ all-time career leader in several performance categories including hits, doubles, and games played. Sometimes called “Captain Clutch,” he was a first-ballot inductee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, elected in 2020.
Cal Ripken Jr., left center, and Derek Jeter, center right, meet and answer a throng of students, school officials, and others during the Nov. 14, 2023 dedication of ball fields at Kalamazoo Central High School.
Ripken, now 63, is a 19-time MLB all-star and a one-time World Series champion. Over a 21-year baseball career, he was twice named the most valuable player in the American League and he continues to hold the record for most consecutive games played in Major League Baseball (2,632). “The Iron Man” was also a first-ballot inductee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, elected in 2007.
Ripken is the son of the late Cal Ripken Sr., who spent 36 years in the Baltimore Orioles organization, working primarily as a player, coach, scout, and manager in its farm system. Ripken Jr.’s younger brother, Billy, was also a major league player. From 1987 to 1992, he played for six major league teams including the Orioles and the Detroit Tigers.
Derek Jeter says he learned a lot about life while playing baseball at Kalamazoo Central High School.