Experiencing Mariano Rivera

Originally published May 5th, 2012

“No way… No way!”

I know what you’re thinking.  You felt the same way when you saw the news that Mariano Rivera had torn his ACL and was not only out for the season, but potentially done as an active member of the New York Yankees.  The baseball world stopped last night and watched as the game’s all-time saves leader, and part of a foundation of World Series championships, was carried off the field with help from his manager Joe Girardi.  It was hard to see. You could see the anguish on Rivera’s face and you could see the heartbreaking concern from his teammates.  The Yankees looked shattered.  No way…. No way.  It’s ironic that on one of the Yankees worst days, I looked back on one of my favorite days, and they both involve Mariano Rivera.

I think anyone that’s seen him pitch live has some kind of Mariano Rivera memory.  Rivera is one of those few players that doesn’t get taken for granted.  Look at any of your favorite teams, there are days you take your superstars for granted or just don’t realize the true impact they have on your team or the game until they’re gone. Rivera isn’t one of them.  When Mariano Rivera came out, crowds stopped to watch.  Home fans cheered him, while away fans dreaded seeing #42 touch the mound, semi-crouch, then fire to home.

“No way… No way!”  I didn’t believe it until I heard the first two chords.  It was mid-summer in 2008.  I’ve been to over 40 ballparks, but it was my first time in The Stadium.  I had watched the Yankees pound the Twins the night before.  The tickets were $5 a piece, and over First Base in the upper deck.  Jeter, A-Rod, and Cano had all hit home runs.  It was one of those games that was over by the end of the first inning.  When my wife and I came to New York I’d told her I was hoping to see one thing from our trip: Mariano Rivera.  It wasn’t happening that first night.  The second day was an afternoon game, and part of a day/night double header, the second game down the subway line at Shea.  Mike Mussina pitched lights out for 8 innings and left to a standing ovations.  Girardi handed the ball to LaTroy Hawkins to close the door.  The Yankees were up 5-0, this game was over, but Hawkins just couldn’t get control.  One run in, 3 hits, and two outs.  Hawkins just couldn’t get out of the inning.  Girardi came to the mound and my eyes widened.  “No way… No way!”

Enter Sandman.

I had chills.  The hair on my arms stood up and I turned to my right and could see tears in Amy’s eyes.  Amy wasn’t tearing up because of Mariano, it was about the moment.  We’d come across the country to see the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  I’d been able to see everything I wanted, but one, and here it was all culminating into that one moment.  I was beaming with excitement and anticipation.  Strike out.  Yankees win.  I want to be a part of it…

I know it’s not a “sexy” story.  This wasn’t a cool October evening that decided a World Series title.  But, it was my story.  Baseball memories are made up of a series of moments.  It’s being able to tell your kids that you saw Ken Griffey Jr hit a homerun in the Kingdome, it’s seeing numbers fall in Baltimore as Cal Ripken extends the streak, or Barry Bonds hits another homerun into the cold San Francisco Bay.  It’s those moments that make us fans, and that overcast Wednesday afternoon in July was my chance to see and share in the legend that is Mariano Rivera.   Stay strong and get well, Mo.  Your accomplishments and contributions to the game transcend logos on a cap.

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