In the days of Tebowing, Kaepernicking, shooting imaginary arrows, staring down home runs, and trash talking, there is a man who went about things in a quiet, unassuming manner, letting his pitching do the talking.
Mariano Rivera is a fisherman’s son who was headed towards the same career path as his father, working six days a week until the age of sixteen. Growing up, he played baseball with objects he found, cardboard for a glove, tree limbs or a broomstick for a bat, and balled up fishing net taped with duct tape for a ball. He didn’t get his first real glove until the age of 12. Joining an amateur team at age eighteen, he first pitched at nineteen and was offered a contract by the Yankees for a whopping $3,000. Figuring it was better than being a fisherman or mechanic, he went off to America and made his major league debut May 23, 1995, striking out his first 2 batters, then getting rocked for 5 runs on 8 hits. On June 11, 1995 he was optioned back to triple A, owning an ERA of 10.20. That demotion crushed him, but he didn’t quit.
In the minors, his fastball got an extra 5 mph. He came back with a vengeance, setting up closer John Wetteland. Throwing 107 2/3 innings, striking out 130 with a 2.07 ERA. While baseball was smearing mud in its own face with PED’s, corked bats, scuffed balls, and the infamous home run chase that was later tarnished, Mariano Rivera simply dominated:
13 all star teams
16 seasons with 20 or more saves(MLB record)
15 with 30, 9 with 40(tied-1st)
2 seasons with 50 saves(tied-1st)
2.21 career ERA
652 saves(as of print)
I’m sure all of us have thought, “if we played in the majors, what would our walk up/entrance song be?” G’n'R’s “Welcome to the Jungle,” and “Paradise City” were tried, before settling on Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Whenever you heard that song, Mariano was coming, most likely with a strikeout, or a guaranteed save. It reminded me of going into Portland and hearing Megadeath’s “Symphony of Destruction” or the “I am the Warrior” in Moose Jaw (yes, there is a place in Canada named Moose Jaw), and you knew it was going to be a tough night. When asked about it, Mariano replied “I’ve never heard of them, I’m not really a music guy.”
I started playing drums in grade six because of Metallica and he’s never heard of them, too focused. THIS IS EIGHT YEARS AFTER THE BLACK ALBUM CAME OUT! One of the best selling albums of all time. That’s what made him awesome. He did his job in a humble, polite, respectful, classy way, and dominated. He simply let his play do the talking. He is a family man, a man of faith, who’s charitable with no arrest record or off the field problem.
The #42 will never be worn on the mound in the Bronx again. I’m not sure if we will ever see another closer in our generation who is as dominant, all the while using only two pitches, a fastball and a cutter. So let’s all take a second and just enjoy, wait for this…. A great ball player, and an even better person. Let’s all tip our hats to the one of best ever, going out on top. As Metallica and Mariano made famous “exit light, enter night…,take my hand…. We’re off to never never-land.” Crank it up!!!
Follow Chris Dingman on Twitter @dingdish