You didn’t really have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the crowd’s response when New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera took the mound in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star game.
The dominating closer pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning, but the special moment came when he trotted onto the field from the bullpen at Citi Field in New York City.
In the home of the Yankees’ crosstown rival the Mets, the 43-year-old Rivera still seemed at home in front of 45,000 cheering fans. He will retire at the end of this season after 19 years in the big leagues.
He stood in the middle of the infield alone for a few moments, accepting the praise of the crowd and the players from both All-Star teams.
It was a stirring, made-for-TV moment for the Panamanian-born pitcher who’s won five World Series titles and saved more games than any other pitcher in Major League baseball.
It also seems to be a case of a nice guy not finishing last.
Baseball has been embroiled in drug scandals of one kind or another for several years now. Pundits are awaiting a ruling by Major League Baseball that could suspend more than 20 players, including some of the sport’s biggest names, because of improper use of performance-enhancing drugs. Many of these players would be good enough to wear a major league uniform without those drugs. But somehow, somewhere along the way, they figured they could cheat and make themselves look even better. It’s so not true.
But Rivera gives us reason to cheer the game still.
Little boys all over Wendell, Zebulon and Knightdale will take the mound every summer, hoping they can pitch a ball with the same kind of nasty movement Rivera has always been able to put on a pitch.
They will fantasize about being on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, with the game riding on their arm. They will see the pitch cross the plate and a mighty batter, who swings with all his might, whiffs on the pitch and trudges back to the dugout tagged with the final out of the game.
It’s the kind of life Rivera has led in real life. It’s the stuff of heroes.
I’m not a Yankees fan, but it seems likely – and appropriate – that Rivera is headed to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. And it was a kind and gracious moment Tuesday night, when thousands of New Yorkers and dozens of his peers got on their feet and cheered for what they know is excellence on the field.
It was one of those moments when anyone can appreciate a master of his craft, no matter what the craft may be.
Mariano Rivera earned the praise he received Tuesday night. He was, for a few moments, the center of attention in a game that has captivated much of this country for more than 100 years.
That he’s done it the right way makes it all the more fitting that he should be praised.