I can’t remember anything baseball-related making me feel so genuinely sad. The sight of Mariano Rivera laying prone on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium was bad enough, but the postgame picture of the emotional Yankees closer fighting back tears was just too much. The end of Rivera’s career was supposed to be heralded by celebration, not mourned as a tragic loss.
Watching Rivera pitch over the last 18 years has been a distinct honor. Although most fans fixate on winning championships, the best part of following the Yankees is having the opportunity to watch so many great players, and no one has been better than Mariano. That’s why the 2012 season now feels so empty without him. Despite the significant loss, the team is still more than capable of making it back to the postseason, and, who knows, maybe even win the World Series. However, if number 42 isn’t on the bottom of the pile when they do, it just won’t be the same. In fact, I’d gladly trade the Yankees’ chances at winning another World Series for the certainty of getting to see Rivera gracefully walk atop the mound. I wonder how many other Yankees’ fans feel the same way? Either way, not knowing if Rivera will ever don the pinstripes again makes the rest of the season seem so terribly unimportant.
Sometimes, fans can be melodramatic when reacting to the trials and tribulations that surround their team. This was different though. Even the players seemed to share in the same extreme emotions. Throughout the recent Yankees’ dynasty, Mariano has been the team’s security blanket, and last night each player reacted as if that sense of comfort had been ripped out of their hands. No wonder the atmosphere in the Yankees’ clubhouse was best described as funereal. A pall had been cast over the season, and, although most of the players were still too shocked to say much, you could see the emotion in their eyes. Reflected in the glassy look often left behind by tears was not only the realization that the team would have to face the ninth inning without their immortal closer, but also the unsettling thought that Rivera might never take the mound again.
At this point, I don’t know. I don’t know. We have to face this first. It all depends how the rehab is going to happen. From there, we’ll see.” – Mariano Rivera, quoted in The New York Times, May 3, 2012
Even the usually stoic Rivera couldn’t avoid being overcome by emotion as he addressed the media after the game. Would he ever pitch again? When the question was asked, Rivera answered with genuine uncertainty, which must have been an uncomfortable feeling for a man who has always seemed to be in complete control. Although he had been contemplating retirement for sometime, and even hinted that this season might be his last, the end was supposed to come on his terms. Now, it appeared as Rivera was coming to grips with the real possibility that his decision might wind up being made for him.
Or will it? If Rivera wants to pitch again, I wouldn’t bet against him. Although the rehab from a torn ACL is daunting, Rivera’s faith and determination are renowned, so, perhaps they will drive him toward a comeback? What’s more, the great closer may view a return to the mound as a matter of honor. During his postgame comments, Rivera talked about letting his teammates down, which, although absurd, just might provide extra motivation.
Even if Rivera pitches again, May 3, 2012 will be a date that lives in Yankees’ infamy. There really is no silver lining to being deprived of watching Rivera’s elegant greatness: not for one game, let alone five months. However, his injury has made one thing crystal clear. It’s not enough to simply define Rivera by his many accomplishments. Even though the myriad of remarkable, almost bewildering, statistics prove his preeminence, those numbers are merely the byproduct of man doing his job better than anyone else. Instead, the real tribute to Rivera is the genuine respect he has engendered throughout the game, and which was evident by the outpouring of support from around the league as soon as the terrible news was made public. Perhaps no other athlete has ever been universally held in such high esteem, but if one truly deserves a pedestal, it’s clearly Mariano Rivera.