Today in many ways feels like the end of an era. There’s nothing worse in this Twitter age than checking your phone after yet another devastating Knicks loss to see a tweet from Bill Simmons saying, “Just floored by the Rivera news.” A torn ACL, and a likely end of career from the sounds of it for one of the great all-time Yankees, Mariano Rivera.
The best player of a generation for baseball that will forever be tainted by steroids and scandals, he was one of only three players for whom hearing they did steroids would cause you to spit up your food (along with Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr.).
Growing up in an age where the Yankees were no longer laughable losers, the face of the franchise to many was Jeter, but the heart was always Mariano. He was always the one you could count on, the one who never appeared to slow down. In the last few years there were whispers of decline for Jeter, with his worsening range and his penchant for the timely GIDP, but Mariano kept going strong. His ERA’s over the last four seasons since turning 38 were 1.40, 1.76, 1.80, and 1.91. I sense a downward trend! But you’re not reading this to learn about Mariano’s stats, and that’s not why I’m writing it.
In so many ways, it feels like a constant in my life for as long as I can remember has been Mo. From being a giddy 8-year old baseball fan yearning for Buck Showalter to put in Mariano in game 5 of the ALDS against the Mariners in 1995 to the final World Series ring for the modern Yankee dynasty in 2009, Mariano has always been there, marking the passing of the years:
-The perfect setup man for the 1996 team.
-Being in Cooperstown with my grandma watching him blow it against the Indians in 1997.
-Three magical World Series runs from 1998-2000, including a birthday party at Yankee Stadium for Joe DiMaggio day, on the last day of the season when the Yankees won their 114th game in 1998.
-Watching one of the hardest losses I’ve ever experienced in 2001 in my parents bedroom with my sister weeping.
-Holding down the fort for 3 innings to give Aaron Boone the chance to do his damage in 2003.
-Thanking the lord I was in a cabin in the woods to avoid the debacle that was 2004 (editor’s note: One man’s debacle is another’s Triumph!).
-The frustration of 2005-2007 embodied in the midges in Cleveland watching on our Akai TV our senior year of college, with the game certain to be blown once Mo was forced to exit.
-Having the first girl I loved fall asleep on my lap after one of our first dates during the World Series run in 2009.
The Yankees and baseball have marked time and memories in my life forever, and Mariano has always been the constant. There was a moment for Darryl Strawberry, recent Kevin Brown flashbacks with Amare’s foolish punches, Shane Spencer home runs aplenty, but no matter what, there was always Mariano. And while tracking an innocent fly ball, it’s all done.
You knew that one day it would have to happen, that Mariano couldn’t pitch until he was 50. But you always thought it would be on his terms, and that you would be prepared for it. That there would be a final moment in Yankee Stadium with a touching ceremony, giving everyone watching it the chills and bringing many to tears.
That’s what makes it so tough, this sudden unknown where something that has been such a stable steadying force in your life is now gone. Sure, in recent years I may have lost my love for baseball a bit, only getting excited for the playoffs, but there was something comforting knowing that any day I could turn on the Yanks and there was a good chance I’d get to hear Enter Sandman.
When I was younger, I always wondered what people who were the same age as athletes felt like. Was it weird knowing that someone who could easily have been in your third grade class was now out there playing the games that you loved and making more money than you could ever possibly imagine? Yet as I went through college and into the working world, the thought never really bothered me. But today, I suddenly feel a whole lot older.
A childhood hero of mine is likely hanging up his cleats, someone who I’ve been through so much with in my life. There are kids out there today in Los Angeles who will get to spend the next 15 years going through life marking time with Matt Kemp, kids in Boston who will do it with Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, and kids in New York who do it with Robinson Cano. But for me, now I’m moving on with my life.
I still love the idea of playing baseball, following baseball, watching baseball, but without the best player of a generation, it really feels like that magical, childish aura around America’s past time is gone.