Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Perfect tribute to peerless Mariano Rivera

I get misty-eyed every time I hear Ben Fold's "Gracie" and Neil Young's "Here For You" because both remind me of my relationship with my now-grown daughter, Katie. I get wistful every time I think of the joy I got from watching my now-grown son, Ben, play basketball as a kid. And I famously started sobbing during the scene in "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" in which Shadow the golden retriever got out of a ditch and rejoined his loving human. (Inspired, we gave the name Shadow to the retreiver we adopted shortly thereafter.)

So, yeah, I'm an old softy ... but usually not when it comes to sports.

In that realm, I'm a jaded guy who has spent a little too much time examining the underbelly of athletics. I've seen too much.

I don't feel especially prideful when "our" Olympic athletes get their gold medals. I'm not overly impressed by public displays of charity because I always was taught that the best charity is an act one does without seeking credit. I enjoy seeing great achievements, but they just about never make me emote. It was great being there in person last March when my Marquette lads reached the Elite Eight, but I didn't get all sappy when the band played the alma mater after the game.

So I was more than a little surprised that I was touched by the wonderful, spontaneous tribute to 43-year-old Yankees closer Mariano Rivera during last night's All-Star Game.

As the best reliever in baseball history trotted in from the center field bullpen to the familiar strains of "Enter Sandman" to protect a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, the other All-Stars stayed off the field. By the time Rivera reached the mound, he was the only player on the diamond. Even his catcher, Kansas City's Salvador Perez, wasn't out there to take warmup throws.

It was Rivera's moment. It was perfect.

Though the game was at the Mets' Citi Field, not Yankee Stadium, the venue worked quite nicely. New Yorkers and fans of every stripe cheered and cheered, and Rivera, genuinely overwhelmed by the display, humbly waved. Rivera's peers (though one could argue that "peers" is a silly word to use when talking about a peerless athlete) stood at the top step of their dugouts and cheered, too.

It really was a lump-in-the-throat scene.

Fittingly, the soon-to-retire Rivera, pitching in his 13th and final All-Star game, retired all three NL batters he faced. As he went to the bench, his AL teammates -- rivals from clubs that hope to beat Rivera in August and September (and October?) -- hugged Rivera and told him how much they appreciate him.

Is there a more respected man in Major League Baseball? I certainly can't name one.

The only thing that might have been more perfect would have been if Rivera had worked the ninth inning to earn the save. AL manager Jim Leyland, worried that a different reliever might blow the lead and deprive Rivera the opportunity to pitch, definitely made the right move.

Rivera already has enough saves. He didn't need another.

All-Star MVP voters also made the right move. Though Rivera was no more spectacular than any of the other AL pitchers who combined to hold the NL scoreless on three hits, selecting him MVP was about as big a no-brainer as no-brainers get.

In that eighth inning, as Rivera stood on that ballfield -- alone, tens of thousands of fans cheering, fellow All-Stars clapping, cameras flashing -- I admit it:

Even I was moved.

I shed no tears -- I mean, come on, this wasn't a lost dog being reunited with the boy who loved him -- but I did smile, stand in front of the TV and think, "This is absolutely perfect."

1 comment:

  1. You never disappoint, Mike. Great column. YOU move me to tears.