I’m still thinking about his exit at Yankee Stadium earlier this week. Who didn’t get emotional seeing that? For such a great, classy professional, this was the most perfect sendoff for him. And to see Mariano Rivera cry also, shows how much he cares about the game and is appreciative for everything we’ve given him.
Even though I despise the Yankees, there was always an exception to a few players on the team that I did like. Hideki Matsui was one that I felt didn’t fit in with the “Evil Empire” identity of the team. Derek Jeter was also another one I admired and respected — especially after that flip to Posada to tag Jeremy Giambi. But Mariano Rivera was the one I could not hate.
As it has been documented over the years, and a lot more this week, Rivera was the perfect baseball player. He took advantage of an opportunity, excelled at something nobody else could do and ended up on the top. On the way up to the top, he didn’t look down at the people below. Instead, he brought them up with him. Whether it was teaching them how to throw the cutter or just encouraging them, Rivera was the kind of player that baseball needed. He gave us, the baseball world, a gem to hold onto.
This exit from Yankee Stadium was perfect for a man that was the perfect player and teammate.
MY FINAL TIME SEEING THE SANDMAN ENTER
Back in August, I was determined to see Mariano Rivera pitch one last time. I decided that San Diego would be the perfect place to do it. He hadn’t pitched in San Diego since the 1998 World Series and this would be his first and last appearance at Petco Park.
My friend and I drove down to San Diego and bought tickets to the final two games of the series, hoping that Rivera would make an appearance in one of them. He made his appearance on Saturday night, but it didn’t come with some drama in the stands.
There were a lot of Yankees fans there and it didn’t surprise me that as the game was coming to an end, people would gather around any pace that could give them a view of the bullpen. The stairway above the bullpen was crowded with people that security personnel had to tell us to keep moving due to safety reasons. But it was so hard to contain the excitement of the stadium.
I decided to move into the bleachers to get a better shot of Mariano coming into the game. I got a perfect shot of him entering the field. This was great and the ovation was magnificent. And in Mariano fashion, he retired the side in order to get the save.
COMPENSATING FOR A DREAM MISSED
In 2007 and 2008, I got a chance to go to the old Yankee Stadium. The first time was in 2007 when I was living in New York. One weekend when I wasn’t busy, I took the subway down to 161st Street to watch my first ever Yankees game in New York. And the A’s were in town too, so it was a double whammy. Unforunately (or fortunately) the A’s won the game and there was no opportunity for Rivera to come into the game.
I didn’t get to hear “Enter Sandman” and see Rivera come in. I wanted to see it so bad. But unfortunately, that was the only opportunity I had to see the Yankees that summer.
The following summer, I was in New York once against for the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Before the trip ended, my friend and I went to the Bronx in hopes of catching Rivera again. This was the final season for the old Yankee Stadium so seeing all the memorial merchandise and everything was great. It was a fun experience for us (even though I accidentally bought bleacher seats, which were not connected to the rest of the stadium). The Orioles won that game and once again Rivera did not come in for a save opportunity. No “Enter Sandman” and I knew that this could be my last time getting a chance to see Rivera.
I haven’t been to New York since then. I wish I had one more chance.
Fortunately, I’ve seen Rivera pitch on the road numerous times. I’ve seen him close out games in Oakland several times.
In 2010, I was with one of my good friends and fellow New Yorker. As she cheered on the Yankees, I cheered on the Athletics. When it got late into the game and I knew Rivera was to come in, I decided that it was time to cheer on the greatest closer ever. But I felt that something to magnanimous needed his entrance music. But since he was on the road, that situation couldn’t have happened.
I decided to do a little compensation on my own.
I normally don’t get too worked up and emotional about players I never met. Mariano Rivera played for a team I hated. But he was bigger than that. He was the perfect gentleman for this role, and for that I am thankful.
What Rivera gave us was a model to aspire. From the streets of Panama to major success in America, Rivera didn’t act brash with hubris about it. He was grateful the entire way. He understood that there was joy in every aspect of the game. He encouraged teammates, coaches and even the unsung heroes of baseball.
Sometimes it gets annoying when we hear constant praise for someone and the bad side is ignored. I’ve heard constant praise for Rivera all season long and all of it is warranted. And the bad side? I haven’t heard any of it. Rivera was that special of a person that it didn’t seem like anything he did was bad. His heart was good and it showed.
The farewell for Rivera has been tremendous throughout baseball. The gifts he has received have been funny and some memorable. Very rarely does a player in baseball receive that kind of respect throughout the league. Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were the last two that warranted such league-wide respect.
Whenever Derek Jeter exits, he will receive great adulation from fans and the baseball world. But nobody will ever garner this kind of respect and praise as Rivera did. He was the ultimate professional and the perfect final player to wear #42. He left baseball better than it was when he first entered.
I wonder how we will move on without him. I’m sure we will be fine but a part of us will feel empty. No more Metallica in the 9th inning. No more efficient saves. No more cutters. The Sandman’s exit, unlike the song, has not been anything remotely close to a nightmare. This farewell has been a dream come true.
Thank you Mariano Rivera for letting us share this journey with you.