There will hopefully be a non-baseball post later today for those of you who aren’t interested in sports. But I had to write this in lieu of what happened last night.
People always guess that Mark Teixeira is my favorite New York Yankee. It’s not a bad guess, the way I carry on about him. Hell, I even partially named my cat after him. A few years ago they may have guessed Jason Giambi for similar reasons; I apparently have a thing for first basemen that wear the number 25. Some people assume it’s Derek Jeter because that is who most girls like, obviously forgetting that I am not like most girls. Nick Swisher might get a mention or two, since I try to sit in his section at every game. But while I love and respect all these players, none of them is my tried and true favorite.
That honor belongs to Mariano Rivera.
There is just something magical about hearing the first notes of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the door to the bullpen opening up and then seeing #42 jog out to the mound. It is honestly one of my favorite moments in the world. For Yankee fans, it means relief that the game is in his capable hands because for the last 18 years, Rivera has been able to baffle opposing players with just one pitch. Even though everyone knows that he will probably be throwing a cutter, he is somehow unhittable. He is just that damn good. While he generally enters games during high pressure situations, he is cool as a cucumber. When he does occasionally blow a save, a fairly rare occurrence, he is able to let it roll of his shoulders and doesn’t let it linger on his consciousness. Pitchers, more than any other position, seem to be head cases, so this talent is especially rare. He just goes out the next night and returns to his usual awesomeness.
I am the only Yankee fan in my family, but in 2004 we all went down to Yankee Stadium to see a game. It was an enjoyable day – everyone in my family is at least a sports fan – and while I am not particularly mouthy at games anyway, I was particularly mild mannered during this outing. That is, until Mariano came out in the 9th inning. To my parents’ utter shock and surprise, I jumped up and started hooting and hollering and cheering my little heart out, singing along loudly with Metallica. I wasn’t the only one – the stadium is electrified whenever he appears – but my family was especially surprised to see their relatively reserved and quiet daughter/sister get so riled up. It was their first real glimpse at the depth of my fandom in person. Mo can do that to a girl.
It isn’t just Yankees fans that tout the greatness of Rivera. Most fans of baseball, regardless of team loyalty, appreciate and respect Mo. Even dyed in the wool Red Sox fans, who have a tough time saying anything nice about the Yankees, concur that he is the best closer in baseball. That is high praise indeed. Part of his universal appeal is not just his conduct on the field, but the type of person that he is off the field. Rivera conducts himself with dignity and class. A very spiritual man, you get the distinct impression that none of this goes to his head. His comments after the game are always thoughtful and insightful and he is willing to take full responsibility when he has an off night. He does not showboat. He quietly goes about his job and does what he can to help the team. He makes baseball better.
And last night he suffered what is a season ending and potentially career ending injury.
During batting practice before the game in Kansas City, Mo was in the outfield shagging fly balls, as he is wont to do. This was not something out of the ordinary; it’s something I’ve seen him do many times. But last night something went very wrong. While going to catch a fly ball hit by newcomer (and possible covert assassin) Jayson Nix, Mo’s knee just buckled and he dropped to the ground. The pain on his face was actually more alarming than the fall. This was clearly not good. I think A-Rod’s reaction summed it up best: he blanched, said “oh my God” and called for manager Joe Girardi.
I thankfully did not see this happen. I missed the beginning of the game. But while I was on Twitter I saw a disturbing tweet:
Mariano Rivera carted off field during batting practice with knee injury
A knot instantly formed in my stomach.
I tried to remain optimistic, but in my heart I knew. And this morning the Yankees announced the extent of his injuries. Rivera had torn his ACL and meniscus in his right knee. He is certainly out for the season. But at 42, Rivera had been hinting that this might be his final season before retirement. So this injury was not only the end of his season, it could easily be the end of his career.
And Mo deserved better than that.
I’m not even that upset about the season. Sure, this is a big loss, but I have faith that David Robertson will rise to the occasion and be the closer that we need him to be. It’s not like we don’t have options. I don’t think this means the Yankees’ season is over. Winning the pennant has just become more difficult. But there is just something so undignified about Rivera’s storied career ending like this. It isn’t just a loss for the Yankees; it is a loss for all of baseball. He deserved a farewell tour and to be showered with the cheers and respect of the fans. He should have ended his career with fireworks and standing ovations. He should not have it ended in Kansas City, where good baseball goes to die.
If you’re not a sports fan, you probably don’t get all the hoopla. No one is dead. Injuries happen and are a part of the game. There are bigger issues in the world. Life is unfair. I concur on all points. But if you aren’t a fan, you don’t understand the bond that is developed with players. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life rooting for Mo. It may be one-sided, but I am emotionally invested in him. It doesn’t have to be logical. With his possible retirement looming, I was already preparing myself for baseball without Mo. But not this way.
This is all you need to know about Rivera: during his post injury interview, Mo was asked to describe his pain. “It’s more mental than physical right now. I let the team down.” Even in his agony, he was thinking about his teammates and how his absence would affect them. It doesn’t get much classier than that.
I still hold out some hope that if there is any way it is physically possible, Mo will return. This probably isn’t the ending he would have written for himself either. But if I never see him pitch again, I will be forever thankful for what he did for my team and for the sport of baseball. See you in Cooperstown.
UPDATE: In an interview this afternoon, Mariano said he will be back in 2013. “Write it down, in big letters. I’m not going out like this.” From his lips to God’s ears. Here’s to hoping!