Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 00:09
Fourteen hours, 100 bucks and a missed homework assignment–that’s what a Sunday trip to Fenway Park cost me.
I have never spent anything more wisely.
Sunday night in Boston was the latest stop in the Mariano Rivera Farewell Tour, a victory lap of the league’s ballparks that, while sometimes a bit excessive, has been engineered to pay tribute to a man that by all accounts has been the most dominant closer in baseball history.
Of course, as a kid that grew up 45 minutes west of a New York dynasty, that ceremony was bittersweet.
The ability to see Mo one final time was a blessing.
Watching him leave felt reminiscent of the emptiness that accompanies a sudden breakup.
As he took his final steps into the visiting dugout, a childhood hero disappeared.
The stunning part about Rivera is that despite his age, 43, his dominance has barely diminished.
Through Monday, he’d put together 43 saves–the fifth-best total of his career–over the course of 60 appearances, with still a dozen games to play.
That his cutter, now clocked in the high-80’s to low-90’s, is still effective at shattering bats and producing results is a part of his mystique.
And that’s exactly what makes his retirement so difficult to swallow for all fans. Simply put, the man can still pitch.
But, even more is the fact that after 19 years, he no longer wants to.
No, instead, he wants to put the “grace and class” that earned him this season-long fawning of baseball to work.
As Mariano Rivera walks away from the game, he walks toward a greater goal–his faith and his charity.
In the opening stages of retirement, the final man ever to wear No. 42 has said that helping others will become priority No. 1.
Suddenly, those churches he has been building behind the scenes, the poor and hungry he’s been helping to feed, the young that he’s been helping to educate–all of those people will have Mariano’s undivided attention.
Imagine for a moment the amount of good that a man who has already done so much might be able to do as baseball fades from his life.
Throwing a baseball may have been his greatest talent, but it has never been his biggest passion. The happiness of others, above all things, has always been paramount.
And now that he’s at the end of his days on the field, it’s a safe bet to say he’ll be able to do plenty more work off it.
As he walked across the mostly empty diamond on Sunday night, Mariano tipped his cap to the Fenway faithful in one final gesture of appreciation.
I, in turn, removed my own hat, head nodding, watching his greatness walk off the field in person for the final time.
Yes, in that moment, I recognized my childhood hero was fading away.
But, more importantly, I realized that Mariano Rivera had long since become more than what 8-year-old me had first loved about him on the field. Over the years, “The Sandman” has become far more of a real life hero for all those things he does outside the confines of a ballpark.
So no, maybe I’ll no longer watch him close out 50-plus games in a season or log the final out of a World Series.
After all, despite his strong performances, his slowed velocity, increase in blown saves and decrease in innings pitched remind us all that he has, of course, passed his best, strongest, most durable days on the mound.
But the end of his pitching days won’t mean we’ll no longer see him make saves. No, rather, they’ll just be of a more practical kind.
Saving kids in Panama from an uneducated life. Saving the poor from a cold, lonely Thanksgiving. Saving those who wander their way into churches he helped build from a wayward life.
For that kind of save, he is still very much in his prime.
Follow Matt on Twitter @M_Stypulkoski.