Every now and then, Baseball delivers with an icon that defines a generation. Tonight we say good-bye to one.
Mariano Rivera was born in Panama to a humble family and lived in a poor part of Panama City. Rivera didn’t receive his first leather glove till he was 12, after that, I guess you could say the rest is history.
Rivera signed with the New York Yankees in 1990 as a starting pitcher. Speaking no English and feeling homesick Rivera struggled and moved to relief pitcher where many scouts put him as “fringe” prospect at best. Yet Rivera worked on his craft and continued to get better, all the while keeping his humility and never forgetting where he came from.
1996 came around and he finally got his chance as the 8th inning man to set up then closer John Wetteland (who?) Rivera out performed expectations and many said the Yankees “revolutionized baseball” with a middle reliever that was a legitimate MVP contender as the Yankees were 70-3 when leading after 6 innings. Rivera remarkably placed 3rd in the AL CY Young Award. It would soon lead to a truly incredible career.
Rivera’s career isn’t and never will be defined by stats no matter which way you argue it. Sure he is the all-time leader in saves and holds a stunning era of just 2.21 but he will be most remembered for his outstanding postseason play, his devastating cutter that many say will be the hardest pitch to hit in baseball history as it broke bat after bat after bat. He was the anchor of five championship teams after the Yankees hadn’t won one since 1978.
The grace and humility with which he carried himself throughout his career only resembles the number of the man he wore on his back for 19 years. Jackie Robinson. Like Robinson, Rivera wasn’t suppose to be in the Majors playing for historic franchises and breaking records, but through his hard work and perseverance, Rivera earned the respect of everyone he crossed paths with and was granted as the final man to wear Jackie’s “42.”
Tonight was an emotional night at Yankee Stadium. The Yankee’s ended their dreadful, drama filled season at home with one of those baseball moments that will forever echo in eternity. Gehrig’s “I’m the luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech in the old Yankee Stadium will be linked to this moment in the New Yankee Stadium. Mo’s final walk. With 2 outs in the top of the ninth, Long time teammates, friends and even roommates at one point, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettite walked to the mound and said farewell to Mo. After a moment of tears and hugs, Rivera walked off the mound into a roar of chants and cheers from the Yankee faithful and Tampa Bay dugout. Yet the cheers spread farther than just the Bronx. Many will be sitting at home either watching the moment on TV or seeing it on SportCenter and will get chills and possibly tears.
Mo was the man that did things the right way in an era that did it the wrong way. He played through the entire “Steroid Era” of Baseball, yet no drug could give an opposing batter the advantage of even touching Rivera. He did it on pure talent and hard work all the while staying a first class man that you would want your son to grow up to be. Our generation will never see a man like Mo ever again, the combination of skill and class in a man has never been more prevalent than in Rivera. While he rides into the sunset with many thanking him for everything he has given to baseball, the standard he set as a human being will be the legacy many will follow for decades to come.
Thanks again Mo.
And then there was only one, Jeter.