This is not as much about baseball as it is about his life. What a great example of a man’s man. I once wrote that for some, the pitcher’s mound is the loneliest place in the ballpark, but that was before I discovered Mariano Rivera. “I’m going to miss the competition; being on that mound,” said Rivera. What is it about this man that made his opponents plan on how to celebrate his leaving? All the adjectives have been used these past several weeks as Rivera winds down a 19-year Hall-of-Fame career in Major League baseball: Dignified, spiritual, respect, caring, revered class act, signified excellence, and competitor, quiet, resolved, and human. His make-up made him special. We draw strength from people like Rivera. He was able to be emotional, yet remain the very definition of a man. As a closer, he was called in during the storm and calmed everything down. “I get more than I give,” said Rivera.
It has been said that the true measure of a man is how he acts when things don’t go his way. The great ones don’t quit, don’t take a step back, but go forward. Rivera understood the history of the game and the uniform he wore. He was always at his best in life’s biggest moments. His single-minded focus on the job at hand was incredible. “I don’t hear the music, but I do hear the crowd. I’m thinking of how many outs I need to get,” said Rivera. “To me, entering a game is my opportunity to give back.” His eyes would calm you down. His voice was reassuring. His presence in the clubhouse spoke volumes without his having to say a word. Bob Melvin once said, “No pitcher has the impact on the opposing team like ‘Mo’ when he starts warming up in the bullpen. It’s not the ‘cutter,’ it’s the way he stays away from the hitter’s power. Mo is simply smarter than most other pitchers.” “He made my job fun, he made my job easier; but more important, he made all our lives better,” said his former catcher and now Manager of the Yankees, Joe Girardi.
It will be written on the night of September 27, 2013; Mariano Rivera pitched for the last time at Yankee Stadium. I’m not going to bore you with the numbers. In the middle of the ninth inning, teammates and childhood friends, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, were sent in by Girardi to take Mo out for the last time. Pettitte signaled to the pen for a right-hander. Mo realizing now what was happened hugged Pettitte and began to cry. It would be the last time he would ever pitch at Yankee Stadium. Then he hugged Jeter and more tears flowed. It may have been Mo’s toughest out. Mo later said, “Thank God they came out. I needed them there.” Somewhat lost in the night was his teammate Andy Pettitte, who also announced his retirement. After the game, Mo made his way out to the mound, a place where he had spent a lot of time. He then bent over and gathered some dirt in his right hand. Of all the gifts Mo received this year, that handful of dirt may be the best.
Don’t make us wait five years to see him in Cooperstown. Remove the five-year waiting period. I want to be around when he is inducted. Mo has pitched in 96 post season games with only one loss. The inclination to rank him with all other pitchers, including starters, is strong; but the fact remains, he was a closer, “THE CLOSER,” the best that ever was.
Legendary announcer Vince Scully may have said it best. “God bless you and Clara and the three boys. Don’t be a stranger to baseball.”
I’ve been blessed to have seen some of the greats compete. The names ring down for me like thunder from the heavens: Ali, Mantle, Mays, Unitas, “Sweetness,” “Wilt,” Jordan, Staubach, and Snider. What a gift he has been to all of us as an example of a fine, decent human being. Mo will be a tough act to follow.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or email@example.com.