By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - A flyover from space, a showering of gifts and waves of love and respect poured forth as the New York Yankees and their fans on Sunday saluted team captain Derek Jeter.
The 14-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner and winner of five World Series rings is retiring at the end of the season and it was Derek Jeter Day not only at sun-kissed Yankee Stadium but across all five boroughs of New York City through an official proclamation by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"In my opinion, I've had the greatest job in the world. I got a chance to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees. And there's only one of those," said Jeter when he was introduced to the sellout crowd.
Flags emblazoned with Jeter's No. 2 flapped in the breeze on poles extending up from the ornate rooftop facade and a Who's Who of sporting dignitaries turned out to salute the man stands sixth on Major League Baseball's all-time hits list and in 20 seasons with the Yankees epitomized the class and winning tradition of MLB's most successful franchise.
Baseball Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Cal Ripkin Jr., Dave Winfield and one-time manager Joe Torre were on hand, along with former team mates including Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill and Hideki Matsui.
MLB commissioner-elect Rob Manfred attended along with surprise guest Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, who crossed paths with Jeter when he tried his hand at minor league baseball back in the mid 1990s.
Three astronauts aboard the U.S. laboratory above the International Space Station some 200 miles above the Earth floated in formation in their capsule to salute the Yankees captain.
Gifts included a lavish trip to Tuscany, a crystal trophy and a check for $222,222.22 for his Turn 2 Foundation.
Kansas City Royals players lined the railing in front of the visitors' dugout to watch and when Jeter was finally announced, in the stentorian tones of the late public address announcer Bob Sheppard, they doffed their caps as the crowd rose for a standing ovation.
"Kind of hard to believe 20 seasons have gone by so quickly," said Jeter, who thanked the Steinbrenner family and "Mr. George Steinbrenner for giving me the opportunity to play my entire career for the only team I ever wanted to play for."
He thanked his family and friends for their support, and his team mates, managers, coaches and trainers over the years.
"I've been blessed to play with the best," he said.
Fans showed their appreciation with several ovations, and posters "Thanks 2 Jeter" and Jeter jerseys were everywhere, worn by toddlers, teenagers, parents and grandmothers.
"Lastly, most importantly, I want to thank you the fans. Everyone that's here today, anyone that's at home watching, anyone that's ever been here over the course of the last 20 seasons, thank you very much," Jeter said.
"You have all watched me grow up over the last 20 years. I've watched you, too. Some of you are getting old, too.
"I want to thank you for helping me feel like a kid the last 20 years."
Then as the familiar, sing-song chant of "Derek Jeter, Derek Jeter" rang through the ball park, the captain grabbed the microphone and said "There's a game to play," and trotted back into the dugout, eager to get back to business.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)