NEW YORK — Fans filed into Yankee Stadium with palpable anticipation Thursday evening, but not for a baseball game. Even with the team over 200 miles away in Boston, the lower section of the stadium was filled with Yankees jerseys as fans waited eagerly to watch the first two episodes of ESPN Films’ “The Captain” — a seven-part documentary series illuminating the illustrious career of Derek Jeter, both on and off the field.
The documentary series, which was executively produced by Spike Lee and Mike Tolin, is set to debut on July 18, following the conclusion of the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on ESPN.
Well before the premiere, with DJ Premier (ironically) providing the night’s tunes, fans found their seats and snapped pictures with Yankee Stadium’s field as the backdrop. There were also several “The Captain” themed photo stations and booths across the stadium, providing opportunities for quality photos to commemorate the evening.
With excitement radiating through the crowd, the attention soon shifted to the festivities on the field as DJ Premier introduced the night’s host, The Kid Mero. Mero, a respected comedian and TV personality, is best known for co-hosting the television show “Desus & Mero” and its embodiment of Bronx culture.
While Mero’s introduction amplified the energy in the stadium, Jeter stepping back into his domain sent fans into a frenzy. After a brief introduction, Jeter provided the crowd with insight into his decision to open up for this new documentary series.
According to Jeter, the documentary series began with an idea to capture the phone call that welcomed him into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The project soon took on a life of its own.
“I wanted to capture it so I can have it in the future and share it with my girls when they get older, because they probably wouldn’t believe most of my career,” Jeter said.
While the Yankee Stadium jumbotron is usually home to instant replays, stats and birthday wishes, it hosted episode one of “The Captain” on Thursday night. This episode highlights Jeter’s upbringing as a biracial kid in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the origins of his legendary career. Spotlighting his family life, his baseball development and his path to pinstripes, the episode features previously unseen footage of Jeter being drafted by the New York Yankees, an outcome that once seemed like a fairytale.
The episode also depicts his struggles to find his footing in the Minor Leagues while also highlighting Jeter’s perseverance to live up to the hype of being drafted sixth overall in 1992. This insight reminded the audience that, despite his storybook career, it was never as easy as Jeter made it look.
Powered by engaging unseen footage and candid, insightful interviews, the new documentary series aims to “discover the man behind the iconic Yankees number 2 jersey,” said director Randy Wilkins. “I set out with this thesis statement that Derek is not just a great baseball player, but an American icon.”
As episode one concluded, Jeter re-emerged onto the field and was serenaded with cheers once again, this time joined by his self-admitted idol, Dave Winfield. With Mero facilitating the conversation, the duo discussed how they met and how their relationship developed over the years.
“When I look back, Derek and I spent the most time together, just talking about the game and life,” said Winfield with a smile. “Then, later on, you find out, oh, he’s a shortstop for the Yankees. Oh, this guy’s pretty good.”
As Jeter and company walked off the field, the attention in the stadium quickly shifted back to the big screen as episode two of the documentary series began. This episode highlights Jeter’s ascension to stardom in his rookie season of 1996 under the tutelage of new manager Joe Torre, culminating with the first of Jeter’s five World Series titles.
With the Yankees on top of the baseball world, Jeter rapidly became the face of the franchise and New York City as a whole. This episode provides insight into how Jeter handled the spotlight and navigated potential pitfalls that come with winning in the Big Apple. Reliving the early years of the Yankees dynasty in the late ‘90s, fans were engaged throughout the episode, often breaking out into united cheers.
“I admire his accomplishments, the person he is and the player he was,” said Jackson. “I got a phone call from Derek [asking], ‘Could you come and help me with my documentary?’ I didn’t even let him finish the sentence. I was honored and said, ‘We’ll see you there.’”
While there have been other premieres of “The Captain,” this one was unique. Being hosted at “The House That Jeter Built,” with Jeter in attendance, the sense of community was magnetic. Fans of all ages, including children from local Boys and Girls clubs, sat together in the home of the Yankees to watch the backstory of an individual who gave so much to this same community.
“It’s beautiful that Jeter came back for all the fans that loved him for 20 years,” said David Seraphin, a Yankees fan and Brooklyn native. “We really appreciate Derek doing that for us. He didn’t have to, but he did. He showed up [for] all the fans here, and that — that’s just classic Jeter.”
“I’m just excited to celebrate a brother who’s made a great contribution to sports and [to watch him] get his flowers while he’s alive,” added DeMone Seraphin, who attended the showing with his older brother. “To hear him be celebrated by such historic figures who cosign his work and his contributions to the sport and in this city, that’s a good thing.”
As “New York, New York” blared through the Yankee Stadium speakers, Jeter had the final word to cap off a fun night in the Bronx. “I hope you enjoyed the first two [episodes],” said Jeter to loud applause. “It’s going to continue to get better.”