Every year since he became the New York Yankees closer, I've been rooting against Mariano Rivera. As much as I respected the baseball legend, I always wanted him to blow a save because, well, I'm not a Yankee fan. He was just always too good, and I wanted him to slip up just once. It happened about as often as Halley's Comet. Anyone who's a friend of mine on Facebook knows from my status messages that I don't like the Yankees -- at all. Yesterday, however, Rivera forced my hand. Actually, he's been forcing it all season long but it just hit me yesterday like a cutter to the gut.
Hours before he'd throw his very last pitch at Yankee Stadium, Rivera took part in a Q&A with ESPN Radio host and YES broadcaster Michael Kay and Steiner Sports' Brandon Steiner during a private luncheon held by ESPN and Hennessy V.S. on the Upper West Side. As he answered each question honestly, humbly, and often hilariously, I was drawn in more and more. Most of the questions Kay and Steiner asked Rivera we'd heard before. Each answer was more surprising than the next. What was his favorite park on the road to pitch in? Fenway. Which teams are the most brutal on the road? Philadelphia. Why is he so humble? "Who am I?" he asked rhetorically. To paraphrase, "Mo" simply said he was raised to respect everybody and all he does is play baseball -- a feat that doesn't make him any better or smarter than anyone in the room.
The answers resonated for me, and as a man always on guard when it comes to the Yankees, I found myself actually wishing the Sandman wasn't leaving baseball. Weird. For his whole career, I'd been wishing him to falter or leave the game, and here I was sitting at a table with a plethora of Yankee fans, drinking the Kool Aid -- wanting him to stick around and loving the guy. To wrap this piece up -- after all there's only so much Yankee love I can spread -- I totally understand why everyone loves Mo. Sure, his Hall of Fame career has something to do with it, but honestly, what it comes down to is -- this guy is a sweet, modest, and graceful man who presents himself in the best light. Mariano Rivera represents all that is good and true about baseball. I'll be watching his Hall of Fame speech just as I did the classy moment that happened on the field last night when Joe Girardi sent fellow "Core Four" members Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter to the mound to pull the stud pitcher after he recorded his final out at Yankee Stadium. Did I shed a tear last night for a historical night at the House That Ruth Didn't Build? You bet I did. I love this game, and it doesn't matter if I don't like the team on the field. Last night was historic. And I'll always remember that luncheon when 18 years of loathing faded away to a great day of appreciation and respect. So, I raise a glass of Cognac to you Mo. You're one class act and an anomaly. We'll never see anyone better nor should we.