Thursday, March 7, 2013

Can't Go to Mo After '13

Mariano Rivera will make it official this Saturday - the 2013 regular season will be his last. A press conference will be held at GMS field in Tampa on Saturday so that Mo can let the media and the fans know his plans.

The all-time leader in regular season saves likely would have retired after the 2012 season had he not torn an ACL in May and been knocked out for the rest of the season.  We all got a glimpse of life with out Mo last year, but it will really be odd when the 2013 season ends and number 42 is only worn on Jackie Robinson Day and Mariano Rivera will no longer be teaching his young teammates/minions out in the bullpen. Teaching them not only about pitching, but about life.

I can see Mariano coming back at some point on Old Timers Days and being a Spring Training instructor, but whenever the season ends for the Yankees I can see this deeply religious and spiritual man spending time with his family and spreading the message of God in his native Panama.

It's remarkable to think of the career the 43-year old has had, especially considering the Yankees had no idea what they had in him when they signed the skinny teenager in 1990. He was starter when they called him up in 1995 and didn't look like anything special. But when he returned later that season he was armed with the pitch - the cutter - that would change the direction of his career and help the Yankees dominate the next five seasons.

His performance in the '95 division series and the season that followed showed everyone how confident and capable the son of a fisherman was. He would work 2-3 innings before closer John Wetteland came into the game in '96. Opponents very quickly realized they had a short window to get to the Yankees starting pitcher. Rivera had turned most nights into a five or six inning game. Then he did his job and Wettleland followed and it was lights out. The Yankees hoisted the World Series trophy in 1996, the first time in 18 years they had done so.

There was so much confidence in Rivera that the Yankees had no desire to re-sign Wetteland after the season. Though Rivera failed in his first playoff series as closer, he would dominate the next three World Series as the Yankees pulled off a three-peat. Something no team had done since the Oakland A's in the 1970's.

The cutter cut, bats were turned to kindling, and the other team shook their heads in wonderment. They knew which pitch was coming, but couldn't do anything about it anyway.

Rivera eventually broke Whitey Ford's post-season streak for consecutive scoreless innings and established himself as the greatest closer of all time. Yes, the role had changed over time, but most teams just gave up when Rivera exited the bullpen to the sounds of Metallica's "Enter Sandman".  Yankees fans will have one more season rise to their feet on the opening notes and clap and roar as Rivera jogs in. (Rivera, humble by nature, admitted that the song somewhat embarrasses him since it doesn't mirror his personality.)

There were bumps along the way  (2001, 2004) of what is soon-to-be a 19 year career, but in 2009 there was Rivera closing in on his 40th birthday and closing out another World Series championship for the Yankees. Two years later he became the all-time leader in regular season saves.

Savor the days, weeks, and months ahead. It's a last hurrah that should be celebrated not only in Yankee Stadium, but in all of baseball. You will never see another player like Mariano Rivera. God bless him.

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