By Jason Keidel
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Some may say we have a Mariano Rivera obsession. You’re damn right we do. It’s one of those oxymoronic, healthy diseases, backed by 602 saves, making Mariano now and forever the king of closers. Yes. Forever. The pitcher nonpareil won’t tell you about this, so we who have been blessed to see him have to.
Swathed in superlatives, the best yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Mariano Rivera regards himself with all the bombast of an undertaker – a fitting analogy for a man whose theme song “Enter Sandman” is hard rock assault while Rivera puts the enemy to sleep with hypnotic aplomb.
One pitch over 16 years: a yawning windup and slow-mo delivery, while he charges the baseball with unprecedented power and precision. He gives the glory to God. And why not? In the absence of any empirical proof for a man who’s closer to AARP membership than his prime to pitch this well for this long, an arm charged with spiritual currents explains it better than science.
Rivera passed Trevor Hoffman, who never saw a big game he couldn’t blow. To compare the two pitchers is like comparing Seabiscuit to Secretariat. Hoffman was a nice pitcher, and perhaps a good man, but his name doesn’t belong in the breath or breadth of Mariano’s eminence.
About a month ago I met Mariano. Sweeny Murti made the introduction. A young man was tethered to Rivera’s hip, part of the Yankees’ Hope Week program. There were other youngsters (and adults) tugging on Mo’s metaphorical cape. Everyone wants a piece of perfection. An hour later I was in the dugout alone with the final 42, who treated me like a son. We chatted for 20 or so minutes, and the man was so sagacious and gracious with his time that I had to end the conversation out of guilt.
One pitch. A cutter that shatters the bat, leaving the bewildered batter trotting to first with a splintered knob in his fist. Every save he walks meekly toward the catcher, as if to congratulate him for the save, sans the scripted convulsions of hurlers like Francisco Rodriguez, who pounds his chest and flexes his forefinger at the sky, as though God had ten grand on the game.
Mariano Rivera is the greatest in all ways we measure men. Short of saving the world on his day off, he has done everything right. All his energy is directed at helping the team and serving his deity. I’m not even religious and I could listen to Rivera joust for Jesus for days. He’s that sincere, stripped of all pretense and the rancid, regurgitated mantras of the crusader. Simply, he’s the closest thing to a perfect human being I’ve ever been around.
What can be said that hasn’t already? Perhaps nothing. So I leave it to the writer nonpareil to describe the pitcher nonpareil.
“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com