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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Changing the Game

New York Yankees closing pitcher Mariano Rivera entered last night’s 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in the 8th inning at Citi Field in New York. Rivera, who is retiring at the end of this season, emerged from the American League bullpen on to an empty field. He received a 90 second ovation from all of the players in both dugouts and the fans in the National League ballpark. Rivera was set to pitch in his 13th and final All-Star Game, of which he would be named Most Valuable Player.



No professional sport has more pomp and circumstance than baseball. For this reason, I appreciate the special moment in MLB, but very few truly stand out and make a lasting impression on me. However, there was something about Rivera, on his Farewell Tour, trotting onto the field to “The Sandman”, being the only person on the field, and receiving the extended ovation from teammates and opponents alike that stayed with me after it was over.

Rivera is among the first generations of career closers in Major League Baseball. While the role of closer became more formalized, structured, and regimented in the 1980s, a typical closer was, frankly, a washed up starting pitcher with some good stuff in short bursts. That is not to say there weren’t dominant closers before Rivera. Hall of Fame closing pitcher Dennis Eckersley was the uncontested saves king of baseball after moving from a starter’s role to the bullpen with the Oakland Athletics in the late 1980s. Eckersley was the American League Most Valuable Player and A.L. Cy young Award winner in the A’s division winning year of 1992.

Rivera, however, entered the game during an age of increased specialization among pitchers. Starters, long relievers, middle relievers, setup men, closers and even situational relievers brought into a game to face a single batter were becoming the norm in 1995, Rivera’s rookie year. The Sandman found his role, embraced it, did it better than anyone ever and set the standard for his craft.

M.V.P. 2

There has never been a player like Rivera before. While his records may be broken at some point in our lifetimes, there will never be another player like him. Besides his dominance from start to finish in his career (he is currently second in the majors for saves with 30, in spite of being on a fourth place team), he has been the model of a first class professional athlete. Zero off-the-field issues…accessible to the fans…great teammate.

Mariano Rivera will leave the game at the end of this Yankees season as baseball’s all-time saves leader. Fans will have the rare experience of watching the greatest of all-time walk off the field for the final time. Until then, sports fans, regardless of rooting preference, are wise to take in and savor every moment Rivera offers us while he’s still playing. Last night, the people in Citi Field – players, coaches, fans – spoke for baseball fans everywhere.

A fitting send-off....

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