Keidel: A Perfect Mo-ment

By Jason Keidel
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Yesterday, I made my annual pilgrimage to the press box at Yankee Stadium, keeping a de facto date night with Sweeny Murti. (My boss sarcastically calls me Sweeny’s boyfriend because I wrote a puff piece about Mr. Murti last summer. So be it. My soft side still beams with pride.)

There I was, all set to harpoon Seattle after 17 straight losses, as the Sub-Mariners (Marvel Comics pun intended) have become a hauntingly bad baseball team, juxtaposed perfectly with the Yankees, italicizing the baseball chasm between the have and have-nots. No doubt the debate whirls over what the Bombers must forfeit for Felix Hernandez now that his team has plunged down the standings, vanishing from the playoff race.

But along the way to another ornery missive, I met a relief pitcher for the first time.

“Mariano, this is Jason,” said Sweeny, who kindly introduced me to the pitcher nonpareil. In his half-uniform of pinstriped pants and dark blue t-shirt, and an awestruck child in tow, the greatest pitcher to wear a Yankees uniform shook my hand.

I pitched an idea to Mo: a series of pieces I’m considering about a select few athletes like Rivera, transcendent talents who are measured by more pliable standards than the rigid stats on a scorecard.

Inside the plush, carpeted, gadget-lathered locker room, stuffed with leather chairs, plasma televisions, and every amenity imaginable for athletic royalty, Rivera stood by his locker with that kid tethered to his hip. The young man was clearly part of a program, a charitable endeavor, and the kid was appropriately awestruck by Mariano’s humble yet powerful mien.

The question was…would I be like the kid? I’d never met Rivera. And while we like to think we’re above the childish impulses of hero worship and misguided but palpable projection upon those we see on a screen, I was once a child before I became a man, and hence a Yankees fan before a sportswriter. So it would be plausible (even though unprofessional) for me to regard Rivera with adolescent anxiety.

He seemed to like my premise, nodding thoughtfully when listening to my questions and making hard eye contact when answering.  He said he’d give me a few minutes at his locker after batting practice.

Then Sweeny told me that BP would run late and that the media isn’t allowed in the locker room at 6 p.m. I tracked Mo down and told him this. He paused and considered an alternative, and then instructed me to meet him in the dugout at 5:45 p.m., where he was waiting for me, of course, at 5:45 p.m. We squatted on the blue padding inside the dugout; his black glove and cap nestled between us. He was on my left, and we chatted over the shrieking clamor of kids begging for autographs as they leaned over the padded rail from the infield dirt.

Rivera treated me like a brother. More, he regarded me with the respect given the owner who signs his paycheck. He could have big-timed me, or he could have (rather reasonably) said he was too busy. Or he could have asked me to make an appointment for another day. Instead, after signing a bucket of baseballs for those frothing kids, he offered all the minutes I needed. In fact, I had to end the interview, not him. I felt guilty that I took up his exponentially more valuable time. Yeah, he’s like that.

Simply, Rivera makes no sense. The adage, of course, is that when something looks too good to be true, it normally is. Rivera is the lone exemption I’ve seen in my 41 years on Earth. A rather religious man, he knows the notion of Original Sin, yet he flashes none of it, at least in public, though being the best player on the New York Yankees stretches the public tarp over even private affairs for as long as you play in pinstripes.

While we’re all imbued with sin – or error, for our agnostic and atheistic friends –

Mariano cloaks his with a spiritual elegance that comes from faith. Dissecting deities aside, there are men who believe in something greater than themselves. And there’s nothing offensive about his beliefs or his way of conveying them I’m not even religious, yet I could hear him joust for Jesus for days.

Rivera has somehow avoided the cultural quicksand of his baseball brethren. Frankly, if I had Rivera’s resplendent life I’d be affected. I’d lose track of my ego, id, and lid. There’s a reason we have “Celebrity Rehab” and the like. Young men (I don’t feel qualified to speak for women) teeming with testosterone, overwhelmed with myriad appetites – a lust to bust all rules and conquer all things that can be touched – are bound to join Johnny Law for a tango outside a nightclub at 2 a.m. It’s what we are. Doc and Darryl are the dual New York faces of forces men can’t control. In fact, it’s a wonder anyone – to appropriately paraphrase the title of a Jim Morrison biography – gets out alive. How did Derek Jeter, obscenely handsome, rich, famous, and fabulous, bask in NYC’s glow without burning in its glare? We’ve had our differences regarding the captain, but no one doubts his sublime ability to dodge Page Six despite all the temptation. But even Jeter has emotional warts. I couldn’t find one on Rivera.

How fitting that he’s the final 42, a number immortalized by Jackie Robinson – the face of grace against racism – and finally retired by the lone man with the weight and wisdom to wear it with equal nobility. He finished the day the way he started it, with his elegant, understated dominance – a nine-pitch, ninth inning, securing his 26th save and his microscopic ERA (1.83).

Call me a shill, a homer, or worse. You already have. But it doesn’t make this missive any less true or Mariano Rivera any less of a man, a role model, or a corporeal legend so supreme that he borders on myth. In fact, I put “Pitcher” third or fourth on his list of accomplishments. So would he. And that’s his genius. Applaud this man while you can.

There will be a day when he doesn’t pitch anymore, when his higher power springs out of the dugout, taps his wrist and calls for another closer. No matter your stars or stripes, that will be a sad day.

Why does stardom and its inherent shards corrupt everyone but Mariano Rivera? It’s better not to think about it and enjoy the man, while we can.

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One Comment

  1. lynnMeredith says:

    I just paid $22.87 for an iPad2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $675 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, MetaCent.c om

  2. Robert says:

    I’m nt a big baseball fan but I’m a fan of character wherever it shows up. And I’m a fan of Mariano after reading this article. Nice job once again Jason.

    1. JK says:

      Thanks, Robert. Indeed, Mariano crosses so many stereotypical lines that you wonder if he’s real.

  3. Kurt Spitzner says:

    Another PRIME example of CLASS,CLASS,CLASS!!!!!And unfortunately when the time comes for him to step down he will not be replaced,although someone will have to try and fill those large shoes,there will just be another person handling that position just as when Jeter does the saame at shortstop!
    Class like ability are both things that you cannot buy they can only be developed and as far as the former is concerned,very rarely!

    1. JK says:

      Sadly, there won’t be another Mo. But at least we got to say we saw him. It’s the same with Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali.

  4. JK says:

    He’s the real item, Jonas, everything “they” say he is. That he somehow straddles the line between hubris and humility astonishes me.

  5. JK says:

    A shame you used very valid remarks as a pretext to pimp your blog. Sadly, you’ll have to be like the rest of us and work your way up, not piggy back my efforts to get eyes on yours.

    Nothing beats honesty. We hope you learn that, Mister, appropriately named, “Blind.”

  6. Blind Blog says:

    This was truly a great article, Mariano is the best, always has been and will continue to dominate even if we are surprised by his success at times. There is no other feeling similar to being at the stadium when his theme music is played before he takes the mound, it’s just great. By the way, I am totally blind and love baseball, I listen to it on the radio and it’s just the best. For more, please check out

  7. Jonas A-K says:

    Rivera is, I’d say, the most respected figure in baseball today, moreso than his Yankee captain teammate because of his sustained success. He has had his fair share of falters over the past five years, but who hasn’t? I’ll be honest – I thought Rivera was done a few years ago, in either 2006 or 2007 (after that implosion in Oakland culminating with the Scutaro walkoff). He had a period when the Sox owned him, and yet he’s bounced back and still commands fear and defeatism in his opponents when he takes the mound.

    1. Jonas A-K says:

      It isn’t hubris or even confidence that he seems to display on the mound so much as a time-hardened acceptance that he can get done what he must get done. Does he ever get rattled? Maybe, but his expression rarely changes. Good to know that you had a good experience with him and that through all his years, he has not become jaded and still is a good guy to everyone. I liked the piece a lot, and would have for that sole realization alone.

      1. JK says:

        Ah, I was waiting for you to inquire, Jonas. Good job. His commentary, his wider view of baseball and beyond, will be part of a longer feature, the aforementioned series of pieces. Read my Sports Illustrated feature, dude! 😉

    2. JK says:

      We talked about God the entire time, Jonas, and none of it seemed like a sermon. His delivery, in all things, is flawless.

      1. Jonas Altman-Kurosaki says:

        Wow, that’s pretty cool. He’s a guy I respect as one of baseball’s mortal immortals – the ones who are true HOFers – who’s had success beyond anyone’s expectations, year in and year out, but has had his fair share of bad stretches to bounce back from to show his mettle.

      2. Jonas Altman-Kurosaki says:

        And if God helps him find that strength, and he can talk about it in a way that completely just feels right while he does it, then more power to him. I’d be interested in seeing some of his comments, or is that for another time?

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