by Michael Shields
He had to do Nothing. He chose to do Everything. Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour….
Legendary Yankees Closer Mariano Rivera is calling it quits. After 19 seasons he has amassed an awe-inspiring cache of accomplishments: 619 regular season saves ((As of publication)), 42 postseason saves ((His, and Jackie Robinson’s jersey number, and the most saves ever)), 5 Worlds Series Championships ((1 World Series MVP Award -1999)), and 12 All-Star Games. The remainder of this season will serve as his victory lap, a chance for us all to ovate his accomplishments one final time. But he has a touch more in mind than just soaking up the admiration of his countless fans….
Rivera’s lifetime ERA of 2.06 is the best ever for his position. No one comes close. His WHIP ((Walks plus hits per innings pitched, an incredibly nerdy, yet telling, statistic.)) is 0.998. Nearly perfect ((Anything below 1 is the standard for excellence in a season.)). He has a lifetime 0.70 ERA in the postseason, with a 0.759 WHIP. And, In 141 postseason innings, he has allowed 86 hits and 21 walks. Just remarkable.
Mariano is widely, and appropriately, considered one of the most dangerous weapons to ever play the game of baseball, and what he has accomplished is due in large part to a single pitch he perfected early on in his career. This pitch, a cutter ((Not discovered until a fateful day in 1997, when he was experimenting in the bullpen with Ramiro Mendoza)), looks like a fastball when released from his hand but spins on a tilted axis ((At 1600 RPM)) and moves laterally about 8 inches as it approaches the plate. This pitch has broken bats and garnered outs at a mythical rate.
He is the best Closer in the history of Major League Baseball, and this isn’t at all debatable. To put it all in glaring perspective, more people have walked on the moon (12) than men who have scored against Mariano Rivera in the postseason (11). And when this season comes to a close he will walk away from the mound, showered in thunderous applause, as one of the most accomplished and beloved athletes ever.
On April 11th Mariano made his last scheduled visit to Progressive Field in Cleveland to play the Indians. While he was there, Rivera took the time to meet with 25 Indians employees, including ushers, ticket sales people, and custodians for a half-hour. He posed for pictures, answered questions and gave out autographed baseballs. This is what Mariano has planned for every stadium he visits this season. This is the way he plans to execute his farewell tour. He has arranged to meet with every employee at every stadium in every city the Yankees visit, and he plans to say…..thank you.
“I appreciate what you guys do,” Rivera said to employees at Progressive Field. “We see mostly what goes on when we’re on the field and not what’s going on behind the scenes. I wanted to say thank you for everything that you guys do, for the love and passion you have for your team.”
Rivera, while in Cleveland, also sought out the famed Indians drummer to show his respect. When he was introduced to the drummer, John Adams, he said, “Hey, you the man. Being loyal, being there day-in and day-out. I really respect that.” And when Adams offered to let Rivera take a turn on his drum, Rivera declined, saying, “No, I can’t. That’s your thing.”
Later in the month, during one of his final visits to Tropicana Field in Tampa, Rivera met with about 15 military veterans from Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans Hospital (pictured below). The group of veterans, as well as some active military constituents, spanned the ages of 23-93, having served from World War II to Vietnam to the Gulf War and current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wanted to say thank you to them as well ((“It’s amazing. They’re sacrificing,” Rivera said. “We go on the field to play. They go on the field to defend us, fight for us, give their life for us. We need more things to be done for these people after they finish. We’ve seen people that are injured. What gets done for them? We need to get more stuff done.”)). This level of awareness from an athlete, and this level of gratitude, towards all who contribute to baseball’s prosperity, and to our country’s well-being, is unprecedented. It’s class personified, and it’s moving.
All too often well-revered athletes let you down. This is undoubtedly our own fault, as putting a man or woman on a pedestal simply for their athletic prowess is misguided. But it is difficult to not glorify these athletes as role models, as in many circumstances their accomplishments, and stunning feats of strength, inspire us, and overwhelm our emotions, clouding our reason. So many of these seemingly uplifting stories have shattered before our very eyes. But, not this time.
Mariano Rivera has made it easy to be a Yankee fan. When the game is tight, the pressure on, and the tension in the stadium thick, all anxiety is relieved when you hear the first licks of “Enter Sandman”. As the Metallica anthem blares from the loudspeakers Mariano is released from the bullpen like a bat out of hell prepared to put a bow on this thing, and call it a night. He is the Fat Lady, his ‘cutter’ – the song he sings. There is nothing I would love more than to have the opportunity to thank him for all he has done. Thank him for all the joy he has bestowed upon me, all the moments of blissful celebrating. I would like to further thank him for the way he has handled himself, the classy manner in which he has conducted his business which has restored my faith in athletes and redefined and expanded the limits of excellence I previously thought impossible. But Mariano would prefer to be the one expressing the gratitude, and his farewell tour has just begun. For the next five months when the team hits the road, Mariano will be doing what many athletes simply don’t. He’ll be giving back, showing gratitude, and cementing his astonishing legacy.