I don't like the Yankees. While there are very few players on the team that I actively dislike as individuals, I don't like them as a unit. However, there are some players from the Bronx that I do like (please don't abandon my blog in disgust), and Mariano Rivera tops that extremely short list.
By all accounts, Rivera is a stand up guy: he shows up on time every day, does his work better than anyone else, takes care of business and his body, and is generally friendly to his teammates, opponents, and fans. Mariano Rivera is like the popular kid in high school that you want to hate because they are just so good at everything and everyone loves them - but you can't, because they're genuinely too nice to loathe.
I've been convinced for several years that Rivera is some sort of android, a well-oiled machine who picked up the ball, threw perfect pitches, recorded three outs (almost never more), and nailed down the save and the win for the Yankees. Mariano Rivera turned every Yankees game where they were leading into an eight inning affair, because he didn't just slam the door on his opponents, he locked it, barricaded it, and tossed away the key.
I was out at a diner with some friends at about 1 o'clock this morning (it's finals time), and I saw SportsCenter interviewing Derek Jeter. I thought it was late, even for being in Kansas City, but I shrugged it off, thinking it must have been an extra inning game - and then I saw the replay of Rivera being carted off the diamond in a field car.
The sound on the TV was off in the diner, so I Googled "Mariano Rivera" on my phone, and I found out the horrible truth. The best closer in baseball had sustained a serious injury, not doing what he did best, but doing his usual pre-game warm-up: shagging flies in the outfield (and by all accounts, he was rather impressive at that, too).
Now the reports are in, and Mo is out with a torn ACL. He's done for the season and possibly his career. I've dreamed of hearing that Rivera was going to call it quits - a Rivera-less Yankees team is one that's much easier to beat. But not like this. I wouldn't wish an injury like this on my worst enemy, and certainly not someone like Rivera, whom I respect a great deal.
Mariano Rivera deserves to retire after celebrating a save, not going after a fly-ball in batting practice. Not every baseball great gets to have an epic homer or three-pitch strikeout in their last appearance, but if anyone deserved that honor, it was Rivera.
But Mariano always says the right thing: "If it's gonna happen like that, at least let it happen doing what I love, you know? And shagging flies, I love to do. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again. No hesitation. There's reasons why it happens. You have to take it the way it is and fight, fight through it. Now we have to just fight."
Say it ain't so, Mo.