Off to Never Never Land
One of the most overused and clichéd phrases is perhaps “bittersweet.” In the sports context it means pleasure coupled with pain. Pleasure and pain. Joy and agony. The only visible emotions present and felt by everyone in attendance at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. There’s no other way to describe the ceremony given for the great Mariano Rivera.
So much to cover here. We’ll begin with…
The Number Retirement
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll believe me when I tell you I predicted the surprise number retirement.
Now Rivera’s number 42 will rightfully sit alongside the rest of the Yankee legends in Monument Park.
What first came to my mind was, without sarcasm, professional wrestler Ric Flair. In 2008 the WWE (formerly WWF for fans who grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s) inducted the “Nature Boy” in its Hall of Fame the night before his final match in the company. Flair was the only active wrestler to ever be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
You can’t help but make the comparison to Rivera, who – to this writer’s knowledge – is the only Yankee to have his number retired while on active roster.
The Yankee organization did a fine job bringing back all of Rivera’s noteworthy former teammates and dignitaries. From the man he succeeded as closer, John Wetteland, to Jeff Nelson and David Cone. From Bernie Williams to Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill; and Hideki Matsui, it was truly a “Dynasty reunion,” if you will.
Even the man who led the charge during those winning years of the ‘90s, the great Joe Torre, was on hand to send Rivera off.
With each name announced, I found myself getting more and more misty-eyed. Eventually I put my head down and realized I was full-on crying; tears pouring down my face. I can’t say exactly why I became so overwrought with emotion. Possibly because each player – each face – was a happy reminder of the teams I grew up watching.
And the years I fell in love with baseball.
What was also special was the presence of Rachel Robinson and her daughter Sharon. Of course it was only fitting representatives and relatives of Jackie Robinson – the innovator of the number 42 – were in attendance to pay their homage.
As for Rivera, he couldn’t have looked any happier to see his old friends. The expression on his face told the whole story.
It wasn’t just old teammates in the house to send Rivera off into the sunset. The band that performs his entrance theme was in the Bronx to play him off. That’s right; Metallica appeared at Yankee Stadium and gave a live rendition of “Enter Sandman” for Rivera and the crowd.
This ceremony (again, without sarcasm) could have been the most extravagant and brilliant way to send a person into retirement.
Without any notes, Rivera was given the microphone. Extemporaneously, he addressed everyone with words from the bottom of his golden heart.
I had trouble embedding the video. Click HERE for Rivera’s speech!
Up until the sixth inning, it looked as if the day was going to get even more special than it had already become. Given the fact Andy Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball at the end of this season (again) on Friday, it seemed perfect that he started the game on the day his longtime teammate Rivera was honored.
And perfect he basically was. That is until he faced the Giants’ rookie shortstop.
Yes, Ehire Adrianza smacked his first career home run in the sixth inning off Pettitte; a solo shot over the left field fence to tie the game, 1-1. The shot took away a no-hitter the veteran lefty was throwing up until that point. Pettitte in fact lost his perfect game bid in the fifth when he issued a two-out walk to Pablo Sandoval.
Mark Reynolds had gotten the Yanks on the board in the bottom of the third with a solo shot of his own, but by the eighth inning it was a moot homer. Tony Abreu doubled in pinch-runner Nick Noonan. Noonan pinch-ran for Sandoval, who had doubled earlier in the frame to set up the game-winning run.
Rivera, albeit in a non-save situation, made an appearance on his special day. As per usual, he was lights out. 1 2/3 innings pitched, one hit, no runs, no walks, and a strikeout.
A 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants. But certainly not a loss Rivera – or Pettitte, for that matter – should apologize for. The two veteran aces pitched their hearts out.
Think back to the movie “Rocky Balboa” for a second. Right before Rocky walks to the center of the ring for the final round of his last career match, his brother-in-law and corner man Paulie yells back to him.
“Rock-O! Last round of your life! The last round…”
It’s almost as though today, Rivera took on the role of Rocky and the Yankee organization played the part of Paulie. It did have the feel of the start of Rivera’s proverbial final round, in light of the Yankees’ slim chances of making the 2013 postseason.
And there only being six games left on the regular season schedule.
He may not collect a World Series ring in his final season, but it’s pretty much understood the great one, the man they call “Mo,” is his own “walking championship,” so-to-speak. He himself is a title; an institution. He earned that by being an instrumental part in championships and important games, all while maintaining a humble attitude with undying faith.
Basically, Rivera is the Yankees’ version of, well, Rocky Balboa.
Rocky may not have gone out a technical winner – he lost his final match to Mason Dixon – but if you paid attention, it didn’t matter. What he accomplished throughout his career transcended everything about his final match: the same way everything Rivera has done throughout his illustrious career goes above and beyond the Yankees’ 2013 foibles.
He closed out games, slammed the door, won our hearts…and became so much more.