For the past several weeks, Derek Jeter has been doing what he has long done as the New York Yankees' shortstop for two decades, getting a head start on spring training by working out almost daily at the Yankees' complex in Tampa, Fla.
But Wednesday was different. Before he began his usual morning routine of fielding grounders and taking batting practice and waiting for more of his teammates to join him on the field in coming days, the 39-year-old Jeter phoned the Yankees' majority owner, Hal Steinbrenner. He told Steinbrenner he had come to a fateful decision: The 2014 season would be his last in the major leagues.
Steinbrenner was still in New York, having attended the inaugural news conference for the Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday, and was about to get on a plane to return to Tampa. But before he could, Jeter floored him with the news that neither he nor any other member of the Yankees' front office had seen coming.
Hours later, Jeter made his decision public by posting a 14-paragraph statement on his official Facebook page that began with a simple thank you.
"I've experienced so many defining moments in my career," the statement said. "Winning the World Series as a rookie shortstop, being named the Yankees captain, closing the old and opening the new Yankee Stadium. Through it all, I've never stopped chasing the next one. I want to finally stop the chase and take in the world.
Jeter will come to a stop after a brilliant major league career that began in 1995 and has come to include five World Series rings, 13 appearances in the All-Star Game and the distinction of being the only one of the team's many greats to break the 3,000-hit barrier as a Yankee.
He has been the player universally admired by fans who root for the Yankees or desperately cheer against them, all of them deeply respectful of the way he has consistently played through minor injuries, conducted himself in a way that did not embarrass the team on or off the field and come through in the clutch more times than anyone could remember.
But Jeter is also coming off the most disappointing season of his career, one in which he never really recovered from the fractured ankle he sustained in the 2012 AL championship series against the Detroit Tigers.
He reinjured the ankle in spring training of 2013 and encountered more leg problems in his efforts to get back on the field and stay there. In the end, he had only 63 at-bats last season and hit .190.
Still, he signed a new one-year deal with the Yankees for the 2014 season and seemed as determined as ever to prove that he could still play at a high level in a season in which he will turn 40 in June. He still may do so, but whatever he does will now be cast in poignant terms not all that different from the season-long goodbye that his fellow Yankee Mariano Rivera was bathed in last season.
In his statement, Jeter said: "Last year was a tough one for me. As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some of the things that always come easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job it would be time to move forward."
What Jeter intends to do after his playing career ends remains to be seen, although it has often been speculated that he would not to go through the daily ordeal of managing a club. For the moment, he still has a 162-game season in front of him, and perhaps a postseason as well.
The regular season itself will end in, of all places, Fenway Park, against the Boston Red Sox, the team that stands as Jeter's and the Yankees' foremost rival. It was against the Red Sox that Jeter once threw himself headlong into the stands at Yankee Stadium in a successful effort to grab a foul pop in extra innings, a play that left him bruised and bloodied and came to symbolize the intensity of the rivalry and the resolve with which Jeter played.
His last regular-season home game in 2014 is scheduled to come three days before, on a Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles. When Mariano Rivera played the last home game of his career last fall, it was Jeter and Andy Pettitte, who was also about to retire, who went to the mound to remove Rivera from the game, an improvised and hugely emotional moment that immediately became part of the Yankees' immense lore.
How Jeter will ultimately depart will now become something to anticipate as this season plays out and prices for tickets for those final games at home and on the road continue to escalate. But one thing is certain - Alex Rodriguez, who played many hundreds of games alongside Jeter on the left side of the infield, will not be part of any formal farewell. He is suspended for the entire 2014 season. The next time he plays, Jeter will be retired.