God bless everyone that reached out to me and said, “Excuse me, how have YOU not commented on Mariano!?!”
I’m proud they made the association. I watched Mariano from the day he showed up with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada as the new rookie in the bullpen. I’d been waiting for the next Goose Gossage or Sparky Lyle to show up and then Mariano took the position “closer” to the next level. Enter night. Exit light.
I literally hate myself for feeling zero emotion at these milestones like Hall of Fame inductions with all the other fans. They are Hallmark sports moments to me. I felt the same about Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium. I don’t want to go see Derek Jeter’s last game at the Stadium. I don’t want to talk much about Mariano’s fast track to the Hall. I was perfectly happy rooting my lungs out for these guys when they were kids like me and it was uncertain whether or not either of us would succeed as players, as teammates, or as professionals.
I left my entire lifetime reservoir of Mariano Rivera emotion in the Bronx. I stood there in October, year after year, freezing my ass off with 3 hooded sweatshirts and a drinking glove, wondering if Mariano would pull off another save and not caring what time it was. My hopes were high. Sometimes, Mo would win for me in the most desperate circumstances, like those 40 degree nights when I had $500 on a Division series game against the Red Sox. That’s when the 3rd strike landed and I could breathe oxygen again because my money and my team were safe with Mo on the mound. You never saw anyone ride a 6 train alone with a bigger a smile at midnight.
I just don’t go crazy when Mariano walks into the Hall of Fame in a unanimous vote. He’s getting what he justly deserves. Not even in the age of fake news does a baseball journalist want to be the pinhead who voted against the biggest money pitcher ever to set foot on the mound.
I honestly forgot how many scoreless 9th innings I’ve seen him throw. I will never forget however, how many 9th inning jams got worse but left no incrementally negative expression on Rivera’s face whatsoever. His pace never changed. Another base runner just meant a harder day’s work to put in when you had a “cutter” like Mariano. “It looks like a fast ball,” hitters would say, “and then it becomes something else.”
Mo would shake the elbow loose. Focus on Posada’s sign like a priest hearing confession. Then delivered the strike. *THWAP* He was money in the bank. Except with Mariano, the more success he saw, the more humility he exuded.
“I am convinced that being fully committed to the moment, without any worries about the past or projections into the future, is the best attribute a closer can have. You wonder why the shelf life of so many short relievers is, well, so short? Why guys can be unhittable for a year or two and then disappear? It’s because it takes a ton of concentration, and self-belief, to stay in the moment in this way and not let the highs and lows mess with your psyche.”
― Mariano Rivera, The Closer: My Story
To share one special experience, I sat in one of the last rows behind the catcher at the old Yankee Stadium with my buddy BMac for Game 1 of the 1998 World Series against the San Diego Padres. David Wells came running out to start the game to “Running with the Devil” by Van Halen blasting over the PA and my head nearly exploded. Tino Martinez hit a grand slam into the upper deck that night and Mo got his save in the 9-6 Yankee victory. We were on our way to a 4 game sweep in the series and Mariano was carving a place in my heart as a steel hearted competitor. BMac and I closed Stan’s Sports Bar that night, along with the owners at around 4:30AM. We hit the upper east side diner for burgers for breakfast and slept right up until the Sunday night Game 2, 9-3 trouncing. That’s one of so many great Mariano moments I got to live through in person.
Sometimes you needed Mo, sometimes you didn’t but he was the same competitor and person the whole way. When Mariano got the guy out that he needed to get, his finger went straight in the air, and his eyes followed it as if to look God in the eye. You didn’t have to read lips to see Mariano enunciate, “THANK YOU.” Everything he accomplished was by the grace of God and it was inspiring to witness.
Of course he walked into the Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote with God in his corner. Guess who’s next?