I don’t often write about sports here on Say Anything, but not because I’m not a fan. Baseball is a passion of my family, and the Yankees are our team. So last night when we saw one of the greatest Yankees of all time go down to a fluke knee injury during batting practice, we were despondent.
It was painful to watch.
There are greater tragedies in the world, of course, then a millionaire professional sports athlete injuring himself in a manner that he’ll be able to recover from and lead a perfectly normal life. But tragedy is the right word for the way his career is going to end. Mariano is 42 years old, already a marvel of longevity among his peers, and was widely expected to retire after this season. Now his season is over just as it got started, and it’s hard to imagine his ever playing again.
Rivera was dominant in a way no other relief pitcher in the game has ever been dominant. The lifespan of the average baseball closer is just a few years, but Rivera has been closing out games for the Yankees since 1997. And he’s dominated for those years, putting up a lifetime ERA of 2.21 and posting an all-time record of 608 saves, doing so essentially with one pitch. A cut fastball that every single batter trudging up to the plate knows is coming, but one few of them can hit consistently.
Rivera grew up in Panama, playing baseball with a milk carton for a glove and tree branches for a bat. He didn’t play baseball seriously until he was 19 years old, a point by which most professional baseball players are already drafted.
My first memory of seeing Rivera pitch was when I was 16 years old. It was during the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Rivera, not yet the closer, was the set up man for John Wetland and had been called in to face Brady Anderson with men on base. Anderson isn’t exactly a household name these days, but in 1996 he’d hit 50 home runs. It was dangerous moments for the Yankees, but Rivera reached back and struck him out on three pitches.
I knew then that Rivera was something special. And he’s been special ever since.
There are four Yankees players who have been key to their dominance since that 1996 championship season (their first since 1978). Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Posada retired before this season, but Pettitte was coming back out of retirement and will likely be re-joining the club this month.
With Jeter defying his 37 years and playing like the MVP of old, and Rivera playing like the Rivera that’s always been, Yankees fans were looking forward to a reunion of 3/4′s of the “core four.” But that’s not to be now.
What a sad day for baseball.Tags: andy pettitte, baseball, derek jeter, jorge posada, mariano rivera, new york yankees