Mariano Rivera’s career was supposed to end with him hoisting a World Series trophy, his sixth, on a float down the Canyon of Heroes.
Not like this.
Mariano Rivera’s career was supposed to end with a 40-save season, the seventh of his career, and a press conference announcing going out in his prime.
Not like this.
Mariano Rivera’s career was supposed to end with a strikeout and a high-five from Russell Martin, congratulating on a hard-worked season, nothing out of the ordinary for the 42-year-old.
Not like this.
This is how villains are supposed to die. The anti-heroes, the guys who do more harm for the game than good. Those bad of heart, those who can’t handle the pressure that comes with being on the big stage.
Not Rivera. Not a hero.
Some may say that the term “hero” is in fact subjective, which is understandable. Even in my claim of self-displacement between journalist and fan, I understand the fire that can come from its usage. But that is exactly what Rivera was, and still is. Not just to a fan. Not just to a kid. But to people all around the world.
He is an icon for Panamanian citizens. Born in Panama City, he grew up playing catch with taped milk cartons and no actual equipment. He developed a presence even in the face of poverty, and through his faith and determination, caught the eyes of scouts. After a pitcher performed poorly in a game for his squad, Rivera offered to make the switch from shortstop to pitcher.
He never looked back.
After signing a contract with the New York Yankees in 1990, he began the rise through the minor leagues. Five years later, he made his debut as a starter, substituting for the injured Jimmy Key. After a season of uncertainty, he became John Wetteland’s setup man in 1996, establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Let’s hit the time machine button. Bring us to the present day. Five World Series rings. Six-hundred and eight career saves, including 42 in the postseason. Twelve All-Star selections. A career 2.21 ERA.
If I may borrow from Bret “The Hitman” Hart for a second, Rivera is the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.
As Rivera went back to track a routine batting practice pop-up off the bat of Jayson Nix, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Rivera has consistently been referred to as one of, if not the most, athletic person on the Yankees squad. He is out there everyday assisting in the activity, chatting with teammates and warming for the upcoming contest.
A stumble and a twist is all it took. He had not been on the disabled list since 2003. But it just took one small misstep to likely end a prolific 18-year career.
I am not being a homer. It just is not fair.
No one will ever wear the no. 42 jersey in baseball again. In 1997, Bud Selig retired it in honor of Jackie Robinson, but allowed for all active players with the number to be grandfathered in. Rivera is quite literally the last of a breed.
Not just a baseball breed though. A Yankee one. Even in the midst of former teammate Andy Pettitte making a highly-anticipated comeback to the game, Rivera will be left on the outside looking in. Following the departure of his longtime catcher Jorge Posada this past offseason, he was considered to be one of the last true Yankees of the Dynasty Era.
Now, he is gone.
As Yankees manager Joe Girardi stated late Thursday night that Rivera most likely tore his anterior cruciate ligament, commonly referred to as the ACL, it is more than likely we have seen the last of the man they call the “Sandman.” While he could pull off a medical miracle and return to pitch this year or decide he wants to pitch next season, there is little incentive. Retirement is just around the corner.
Rivera’s contributions to the game stretch beyond the field. He is a man of faith, a religious servant essentially. When the song synonymous with his entrance from the bullpen began being played, he claimed he did not like it because the only music he listened to was Hispanic Christian music. He redefines what a positive role model should be, and takes the idea of being an ambassador for a sport to a new level.
I will always remember Rivera on a personal level, one that his teammates may have been accustomed to and I wish I had the privilege of as well. I had contact with him twice, one of which was nothing more than a handshake at a mutual gathering.
The second, however, occurred on a cold day this past December. As he stood on the Quinnipiac University campus to visit his son, I made my way over to one of my usual workplaces. Holding to my policy of not glorifying athletes, I simply carried on with my business as usual.
As I headed to the building, I saw a crowd of people walking in. Once I was within 200 feet of the door, I saw it was being held open by someone. It was Mo. Even from the distance I was away, he held it there until I walked in.
“Stay out of the cold,” he said. “Nice coat.”
This is what set Rivera aside from many others. Personality. Selflessness.
He is the figurehead of a franchise that is perhaps the most well-known sports organization in the world. If there was a Mount Rushmore of Yankee stars, he may very well be on it. Even with the plethora of bullpen talent New York has in store to step in, he is irreplaceable. No one will ever throw a cutter like he did. No one will ever display the poise he had. In short, there will never be another Mariano Rivera.
But this is not how it should have happened. This is not real life. This is beyond surreal.
Unfortunately, nobody said life was fair. Regardless, this is a day that goes down in baseball history as a dark one, extending beyond Yankee fans, past Red Sox fans, through the thousands of hitters he retired over the years and further.
It is perhaps the day the Sandman left never never-land. And it happened the wrong way.
Follow Jon Alba on Twitter!