KALAMAZOO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo’s favorite son, Derek Jeter, returned to his hometown Tuesday to give back to the school that helped shape his legendary baseball career.
Before he became a Yankee and Hall of Fame inductee, the Captain grew up as a Kalamazoo Central Maroon Giant, jumping the fences of his childhood home into the high school fields to play catch.
“It’s a little harder to jump the fences nowadays than when I was younger,” Jeter laughed Tuesday, looking back.
Yet he and his sister Sharlee Jeter still returned, helping renovate the fields they once graced as Maroon Giants.
Nearly five months after ground was broken, the ribbon was cut Tuesday on Kalamazoo Central’s new baseball and softball fields, which feature new dugouts, bathrooms and synthetic turf fields.
“When you do it, you want to do it right, so you’re not sitting here three or five years down the road, saying you wish you would’ve done something differently,” Derek Jeter explained. “Plus, we’re eliminating excuses for the players now, right, when they’re out here performing.”
But it wasn’t just the Jeter family’s foundation, Turn 2, that helped cover the total cost of $5 million.
Fellow Baseball Hall of Famer and “Iron Man” himself, Cal Ripken Jr., also pitched in through his foundation, which bears the name of his father.
“If you sneak back, when all of this pomp and circumstance is gone, and you see how the kids use the field, how they appreciate the field — that’s the real magic of what we do,” Ripken said. “I enjoy seeing how it transforms from shovel in the ground to ribbon cutting, but I really enjoy seeing how it’s used.”
“I looked up to Cal, not just as a player but as a person,” Derek Jeter added. “He sets the standard for athletes to give back post-career. He did it during his career, but he took it to a whole new level post-career.”
It is a lesson they hope to teach the next generation from their time jumping over and swinging for the fences.
“If you have a little, give a little. If you have a lot, give a lot,” Sharlee Jeter, who serves as president for the Turn 2 Foundation, said. “We’ve just been in a position, thanks to Derek, to really give back to the community in a meaningful way.”
“I’m very happy for the school. I’m happy for the teams, people and kids that are going to a chance to play here,” Derek Jeter said. “It just brings back a lot of memories.”
While the ribbon is cut, the fields are not yet finished. Press boxes are expected to be built by the start of the 2023 baseball and softball season.