As the announcement of Mariano Rivera’s retirement finally sinks in, everyone will be writing about their greatest memories of the greatest closer in the months to come. And I mean EVERYONE. The new Pope Francis will talk to the masses about how the kind Mariano was a gift from God. Peggy Noonan will write how the economy benefitted when Mo pitched. Adele will be doing a cover of “Enter Sandman” just in time for the All-Star break. So I figured I’d join the bandwagon. A Yankee event like this isn’t going to happen again…well, until Derek Jeter retires.
Rivera has pitched in a boatload of games and he’s been a part of many fantastic finishes (and a few not-so-fantastic). But my ode to Mo is going to be about a Red Sox-Yankee game from 2001. A friend of mine had four tickets for an afternoon game at Fenway that he wasn’t going to be able to use. Sad day for him because the marquee pitching match-up was Pedro Martinez vs. El Duque. I graciously accepted the ticket offer even though I can’t stand Fenway Park. (Most people like Fenway with its Old World charm. But apparently, the average Old World person didn’t mind sitting in narrow wooden seats that didn’t give you a view of the field. And don’t get me started on the Green Monster. You can read my typical Fenway rant on a previous blog post. )
My wife and I, along with our two daughters (who were six and three at the time), prepared for the descent into enemy territory. We put on our war paint, er, sunblock and donned our hats with the NY logo. Luckily, our seats were in a small Yankee contingent out near the visiting team’s bullpen. It was an unbelievably hot day for a pitching duel, with the score tied at 1-1 going into the 9th inning. I was on the edge of my seat, but my kids were getting antsy. So my six-year-old Abby and her sister Lilly walked down the row to look at the Yankee relief pitchers warming up. They waved down to the players and yelled, “Hello, Yankees!” When they sat back down, Bernie Williams hit a home run. Booyah!
Yankees up by a run, bottom of the ninth, you know the drill. The greatest closer of all-time comes through the bullpen door and jogs onto the field. Abby turns to me and says, “Hey, that’s the guy who waved back to us!” What?!? Really? Yeah, she says, we waved to them and he looked up, smiled at us, and waved back. I was floored. Here was Mariano Rivera warming up with the game on the line, against the archenemy Red Sox. Two little girls wave hello and he notices them. Cool as a cucumber, minutes before expecting to be called upon, the great Mariano, with the simplest of gestures, demonstrated why he’s a class act, on and off the field.
Oh, and then he took care of business 1-2-3 in the ninth and the Yankees won 2-1. Great game. Great moment. Great Mo. Thanks for that memory, Mr. Rivera!
It gets late early out there.