“I’m coming back. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going out like this.”
–Mariano Rivera today on his possible season-ending ACL injury
Those are the words of a true champion, of someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “can’t”. If you know him just as the all-time saves leader, then you do not know Mariano Rivera. Despite whatever resentment you may hold for the logo across his chest, one has to stand in shear awe of the pure talent that resides in the being of the man beyond the uniform. Yes he is the man who reached 608 saves on virtually one pitch, yes he is the man who has a career 2.21 ERA and WHIP under one. But the man we know as Mo, is also one of the few remaining gentlemen of the game. Despite his incredible abilities on the field, the drive and motivation, the pure heart for the game off the field, is what makes Mariano Rivera a true legend.
Whether it’s a three run lead in an April game, or Game 7 of the World Series, Mo always maintains the same presence on the mound, standing tall, delivering that pitch most have only dreamt about facing, while others wish they hadn’t. The cutter, Mo’s bread and butter. The lone pitch that has brought him twelve all-star nods, four Top-3 Cy Young finishings and two Top-10 MVP honors.
If there was a record kept for the number of bats broken by a pitcher, Rivera would undoubtedly be the all-time leader. His cutter somehow breaks at the exact point when the unfortunate batter at the plate believes they have a hanger to tear the cover off of, and instead it is their bat –and in 608 cases, the hope of a rally–, that is torn to shreds. What creates the bewilderment over Mariano Rivera’s cutter is not just how effective it is, but that everyone knows that’s what will be coming, the hitter knows it is going to be a strike, yet when their bat reaches the would-be point of contact, they find nothing but the wake of the baseball as it sails into the catcher’s mitt, untouched by anyone else, but Mo.
If not his raw ability, you have to appreciate his love and respect for the game. He isn’t like Jose Valverde or his teammate Joba Chamberlain, who get pumped up when they close out a game or punch out someone in a key situation. Mo walks off the mound, often does a humble point to the sky, shakes hands with his backstop and his teammates, and retires to the lockerroom. He is a man who never gets too high or too low, he simply goes out there and throws, no flashiness, no showboating; he just pitches.
As not a fan of the Mets or Yankees, Redsox or Phillies, but as a fan of baseball, one must respect, appreciate and admire Mariano Rivera. He has taken his God-given ability to throw a cut-fastball and used it to make himself into an icon, a pillar of the game today. That coupled with his humble personality, his gentleman approach to everyone, treating them as equals and not putting himself above others as so many athletes do today, and you have a man –not just a baseball player– that anyone, young or old should idolize and look up to.
Get well soon Mariano Rivera, baseball misses you.