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Mariano Rivera retires from Yankees to fan adoration

By Charlie Romanow

Section: Sports

September 27, 2013

Few athletes in recent memory have been as universally praised and level headed throughout their career as New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The soon to be 44-year-old has played 19 seasons in the Bronx and is retiring at the end of the season. He is the all-time saves leader and is commonly thought of as the best closer of all time. Despite receiving such praise from fans and opponents alike, “Mo,” as he is commonly referred to, did not take the routine path to becoming a dominant future Hall of Fame pitcher.

Rivera’s successes can be attributed to his demeanor on and off the field. In front of the media, fans and teammates, he has always remained calm after winning a big game or blowing a win.

Rivera grew up in a poor village of Puerto Caimito, 25 miles southwest of Panama City, the capital of Panama, his home country. His father was a ship captain in the fishing industry, and after Rivera graduated high school at the age of 16, he worked six days a week catching shrimp and sardines on his father’s ship. As with many future baseball players who grew up in Latin America, Rivera did not have access to stellar equipment. He used milk cartons for gloves and tree branches for bats. After his uncle died in a fishing accident, he considered becoming a mechanic but managed to join a local amateur baseball team, interestingly not as a pitcher, but as a shortstop.

With no prior formal pitching training, Rivera later eagerly stepped onto the pitcher’s mound when his team was in dire need of a pitcher. After previously being overlooked by Yankees scouts as a shortstop, they decided to bring the young Panamanian boy to America, although he spoke no English and had never left Panama.

Initially, he was not a relief pitcher in the minor leagues but was a starter. His first game with the Yankees was over three and a third innings and he gave up five runs. Fortunately, he continued to push through and earned a spot on the major league team. His most famous pitch (infamous to opposing batters), the cutter, was discovered by Rivera accidentally when throwing the ball around with a teammate in the bullpen. The song known as Rivera’s entrance music, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, was actually chosen by staff at Yankee Stadium. As with all things that have come his way, he graciously accepted what lay before him and served his team in any role that he could, to whatever music prompted his entrance.

The entire 2013 Major League Baseball season has included tributes to Rivera from New Yorkers and opponents alike. In a 50 minute ceremony at Yankee Stadium, past teammates spoke of their experiences with the great closer. His number 42 jersey was hung up with a bronze plaque at the Yankees Monument Park where tributes to the greatest players who have worn pinstripes remain. The 42 jersey was retired by the league in 1997 in honor of Jackie Robinson, but Mariano was allowed to continue wearing the number throughout his career. Robinson’s widow and daughter joined Rivera at the ceremony.

In a surprise show, Metallica performed “Enter Sandman” live for the crowd and Rivera. Gifts that came throughout the season from opponents included a watercolor painting, a custom-made guitar, an original seat from Yankee Stadium, a live performance of “Enter Sandman” by the Boston Cello Quartet, a rocking chair made of splintered wooden bat barrels caused by Rivera’s cutter, gold records of “Enter Sandman,” a hose nozzle from a New York City fire truck and a call box given by the commissioner of the Fire Department of New York.

From his home of New York, he received $100,000 for his charity, the Mariano Rivera Foundation, another rocking chair made of baseball bats, a visit from the president of Panama and an honorary Mariano Rivera Day courtesy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In Texas, Rivera gave a pep talk to the Panamanian soccer team before they upset Mexico in the Gold Cup semifinals. A plane bearing his number, signature and pinstripes was also dedicated at JFK International Airport by Delta Airlines. In his outgoing tour he threw out the first pitch at many opposing stadiums and met with opposing media, fans and staff. Twenty companies have gained licenses to make 150 different retirement items for Rivera, including Nike, New Era, Rawlings, Fathead, Highland Mint and Steiner Sports.

Mo made his last appearance on the September 22 against the Giants and will finish his career on a three-game road trip to Houston. This appearance closed the game that Andy Pettitte started, concluding the most prolific starter-reliever duo in history. For a young Panamanian boy who did not have a baseball bat or glove as child, to having multiple chairs constructed from bats and a crystal replica of his glove, Rivera has come a long way.

His calmness and serenity have frustrated opponents throughout his career, and his ability to keep steady through the inevitable highs and lows has separated him from others. When asked what his job entails, he said, “I get the ball, I throw the ball, and then I take a shower.”

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