By Jason Peake
Missourian Sports Writer
Zach Mort idolizes, loves and worships Derek Jeter.
So imagine the Pacific 9-year-old’s excitement when he learned that Jeter and his New York Yankees would be playing in St. Louis against the Cardinals.
“Zach has always been a huge Derek Jeter fan,” his mother Michelle said recently. “He begged us to take him to a Cardinals-Yankees game so he could see Jeter play.”
This is a special season for Jeter and his fans. The Yankee captain has announced that he will be retiring from the game at the end of the season. Jeter’s done it all in his long career. He’s earned five World Series rings, has been selected to the All-Star Game 14 times and has recorded more than 3,000 hits. He’s a future Hall of Famer for sure.
Take this into account, too: The Yankees hadn’t played in St. Louis since 2005. So it’s safe to say their visit to Busch Stadium was a historic one to fans of both teams.
Michelle and Eric Mort, Zach’s parents, got tickets to the final game of the Cardinals-Yankees series, which was played on May 28. The family enthusiastically attended the game, and of course, Zach couldn’t wait to see Jeter take the field.
One problem — Jeter didn’t play.
Imagine the disappointment the youngster must have felt. His hero sat on the bench the entire game, barely giving his diehard fan a glimpse. Jeter had played the first two games of the series vs. St. Louis, but not the third, a game the Yankees won, 7-4.
Michelle said once Zach realized Jeter wasn’t playing he was unable to hide his disappointment.
“Zach slouched down in his seat, pulled his cap down and started to cry because he did not get to see his hero play,” Michelle said. “He was just so upset.”
After the depressing experience, Zach’s parents came up with an idea.
After their finale in St. Louis, the Yankees traveled to Kansas City for a series with the Royals.
“My husband and I talked about it and we got tickets for me and Zach to see the Yankees in Kansas City,” Michelle said. “But we didn’t tell Zach. It was a total surprise.”
The unexpected road trip to Kauffman Stadium took place on June 6.
“I told him we were going to do errands and I just started driving,” Michelle recalled. “He was doing math in the car and then he eventually looked up and said, ‘We’re going to Columbia?’ I said we were going to go shopping. We did stop in Columbia to eat and then we got back in the car, and thank goodness, he fell asleep. So I drove to Kansas City and just before we pulled in to the sports complex I woke him up and handed him his Yankees cap. I told him he may need it. He looked up and realized we were in Kansas City. Then I handed him the tickets. He ended up crying because he was so excited. He was shocked. And he was very appreciative.”
After their arrival, Michelle and Zach made a ‘Derek Jeter Is My Hero’ sign and entered the stadium early to watch batting practice. Someone from the Royals organization tossed Zach a baseball. Decked out in his Yankees gear, Zach then got a close-up look at his hero. His previous disappointment would be long forgotten, and soon he would be elated.
Michelle recalled what happened next.
“Jeter comes out of the dugout and starts signing autographs and doing interviews,” she said. “Then Jeter started to go back to the dugout and Zach was right by the steps. Then he must have seen Zach’s shirt, his hat and the sign. Jeter motioned to Zach to throw him the ball he had. So Zach tossed him the ball and Jeter signed it and gave it back. Jeter ended up signing another ball for Zach, too, which we gave to a family who helped us earlier. Zach was so, so excited.”
Michelle said Jeter definitely put a big smile on her son’s face. It’s a smile that still hasn’t faded.
“He will never forget it,” Michelle said. “He called his grandparents right away after he got the ball to tell them. He’s been telling everyone. He got a case for the ball and he talks about it all the time.”
Guess what? Jeter didn’t play in the game against the Royals, either. It didn’t matter.
“Zach didn’t care that time because he got his hero’s autograph,” Michelle said. “He was just thrilled he was able to get his autograph.”
And now Zach, who will be going into the fourth grade at St. Gertrude Grade School in Krakow, has an impressive story to share for the rest of his life.
His quest to see his idol started off badly, but had a happy ending.
“It was well worth the trip and expense for him to have that amazing experience,” Michelle said.
One thing’s for sure, Zach Mort will likely never forget The Great Jeter Adventure of 2014.