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Archive for September 20th, 2011

Mo

I am a big fan of baseball.  I classify myself as a Yankees fan currently but, though I revel in the rich history of the organization with names like Babe Ruth,Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and on and on, it is the group of players that started their current run of success that made me fans of this team.  Bernie Williams, Jose Posada, Andy Pettitte and, of course, Derek Jeter were constants over the last 15 years. All played significant roles in the restroing the Yankees to the top of the baseball heap.

But any fan who cares a lick about baseball knows that much of their success is due to one player, a rail thin man from Panama with the name Mariano Rivera, known to fans simply as Mo.  Today he stands as the all-time leader in saves, meaning he is the pitcher who comes in at the ends of games when the outcome is in the balance and shuts down the threat from the other team. He is the closer, the most demanding position  in the game so far as absolute consistency is concerned.  He either preserves the win or loses the game.  No excuses accepted.

No one has been as consistent in protecting the lead for wins as Mo for the past 15 years, a remarkable time for a position where the strain and stress usually drains most closers after 7 or 8 years.  Yankee fans have long felt the welcome comfort that comes with seeing number 42 come jogging out of the outfield from the bullpen to enter the game.  Even his number is special.  Mariano will be the last player to wear the number since he is the last active player who was wearing number 42 when Major League Baseball retired the number to honor Jackie Robinson. 

It’s hard to explain to non-baseball fans what Mo has meant to the Yankees and to baseball in general.  He has carried himself for these years with great modesty and dignity, never showing up an opponent.  On the mound, he has the appearance of the old gunfighter in the movie westerns of years gone by– wary but calm and collected, knowing that he must control his emotions to do what he must do.   When the game is over, there are no histrionics, no throwing of his hands toward the heavens.  He expects his success and usually flashes a small grin, almost embarassed  sometimes, as the players congratulate him.

 It’s an attitude that has won him great respect around the game.  Yesterday, when he broke the record, the Minnesota Twins, who came up short against Mo in this game, stayed after the game and gathered on the dugout steps to join the Yankee faithful in applauding the embarassed star as he stood alone on the field.  Even diehard Red Sox fans, who boo Jeter like he killed their mother, often give Mo a hearty cheer when he is announced at post-season or All Star games.  He is a man of respect, both giving and receiving, a quality that hopefully will rub off on younger players.

Mo’s 41 years old  and when he takes off his cap his scalp is bald now.  He shows his age a bit but still performs at the highest level.  As a fan I know there will not be many more times when number 42 calms the anxious Yankee fans as he jogs acoss the outfield toward the mound.  I relish every appearance now, knowing that I am watching a legend, a player who will be talked about in the same breath with Ruth and Gehrig.

Deservedly so.

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