A Major League legend calls it quits at age 43, Mariano Rivera ends his baseball career after 19 years of dominance
This week, the baseball world is in the midst of what might be the saddest exit in MLB history. Arguably one of the most respected player in all of sports, Mariano Rivera, is playing his last games ever in the MLB.
While it might sound dramatic to those on the outside, as a young baseball player myself, Rivera leaving the game is one of the most significant sporting events of our lifetime.
Rivera has been dominating the game for 19 years. People will truly miss the role model he has been for his long career.
Rivera left with his team down and two outs in the ninth inning Sept. 26, in his very last game of his career at Yankee Stadium.
The fact that his team was losing made no difference. Currently injured Derek Jeter and legendary pitcher Andy Pettite were the ones to make the mound appearance to take Rivera out of the game.
This is when I saw my idol and an obvious future Hall of Fame inductee break down in tears, hugging Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter, who will probably join him very soon in the Hall.
From the mound, he slowly walked back to the dugout, raising his hat to the standing ovation of 50,000 devoted Yankee fans. At the end of his walk to the dugout, Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who many do not know was the catcher during Rivera’s first ever save, was waiting for Rivera to reach the dugout.
When Rivera reached Girardi, they embraced, both with tears, in front of the whole world.
The baseball community is losing more than just a player. It is losing one of the classiest role models ever to be in the game.
In my opinion, there is only one other person who made as big of a contribution as Rivera did to the game of baseball, and they shared the same number. That person is Jackie Robinson.
Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, and there is no doubt that he had an enormous and far-reaching impact for the future of all pro athletics.
With the understanding that no one can quite match Robinson’s impact, the influence that Rivera had was as close as anyone could get, for the simple reason that Rivera was one of the first Latin Americans to come play in the United States.
As a native of Panama, Rivera grew up playing baseball with makeshift gloves made out of milk cartons and worn down baseballs with fishnets wrapped around them to create traction. After high school, he did not go straight to the pros. Instead, he worked with his dad at a six-day-a-week shrimping job.
He eventually quit his job as a fisher after abandoning a capsizing fishing boat that ended up killing his uncle. From there, he joined a local Panama team as a shortstop.
He originally got the needed attention from the Yankees for his athleticism and not for his shortstop capability.
Coming into the pros, he was good, but not dominant. One day, before a World Series game against the Atlanta Braves, Rivera was messing around with a new grip during his warm-ups. From this was born what has now become the most dominant pitch in baseball, “the cutter.”
Rivera claimed this as an act of God. “The Lord gave it to me,” Rivera said in an interview after that game. He became so good at this pitch that it did not matter if he yelled to the batter that the cutter was coming, the batter was still unable to hit it.
This unique pitch led him to break the record for the most saves in MLB history.
He will finish his career with about 652 saves total. The closest active closer to that mark is Joe Nathan, with 339 saves. Rivera is doing more than just breaking the records: he is demolishing them.
Despite his huge success, Rivera stays humble.
“I have nothing to ask for, thanks to God. Everything I have, God has given me.”
After his last game in Los Angeles, a Newsday reporter asked Rivera how he was so humble.
“She [his wife] hears all the things I have to say when I’m sad… All the prayers, that’s my strength and power. I can’t do it alone,” Rivera said.
In this statement, Rivera demonstrates the tremendous humility that he offers; he is even humble about being humble.
This is a gift that Rivera gives to baseball and the world: teaching the lesson of humility despite being unanimously considered a hero.
In a world full of critics and tabloids, there is no man in any profession that has handled the pressure of the media, not to mention the New York media, better than Mariano Rivera.
People can be die-hard Red Sox fans, and huge haters of the New York Yankees. But no matter how contradictory it sounds, rooting for Mariano Rivera and rooting for the Yankees are two completely different things.
To prove this, in his last game at Fenway in Boston, he received gifts and a standing ovation from the Red Sox crowd.
It does not need to be said that the Yankee vs. Red Sox rivalry is considered one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports, with a huge history of brawls. It is a sure sign that someone is respected when he walks into enemy territory and gets treated as if he were a fellow member of their tribe.
Rivera is going to be missed by anyone who follows baseball. He leaves a gap that is going to be almost impossible to fill.
The next question is who will step up and fill his role. We may never see a greater role model than Rivera in the game. We bid him farewell as his legend lives on throughout the future of baseball.