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Life Arts

Mariano Rivera Saves the Night (For Me)

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From Mariano Rivera Enters His Final All Star Game
Mariano Rivera Enters His Final All Star Game by slgckgc

I started the practice, which soon became a habit, in my early teens. When I picked up the morning paper (my mother religiously bought four or five papers daily) I always turned to the back page first. It was the sports page of one of New York City's two tabloids, the Daily News and the Mirror.
At first, I went to the sports page because that's where my interests were. As I grew older, it was because I found that it offered a gentler way, if you will, to enter into the daily fray. It was sports, after all, fun and games. Nothing life-or-death or depressing there.

For some time, I felt guilty about this habit, feeling I should be paying attention to the front of the paper and all the "important" news. The bad news. The annoying news. The depressing news. The infuriating news. But then I found out that other seemingly bright, responsible people started their daily newspaper the same way--on the sports page. So I stopped beating myself up over it.

There's no back page where I get much of my news today, on the Internet. But on Tuesday night, July 16, I found myself, figuratively speaking, turning to the back page of Facebook. I needed relief from the front pages of this social media site, which, if you will, screamed with anger, hatred, bigotry and ignorance over the not-guilty verdict on George Zimmerman. You could also take in Rush Limbaugh; Bill O'Reilly; people shooting people everywhere; bees still in a death spiral; people being denied food stamps while millionaire farmers got subsidies; American citizens being spied on by their government, which is owned by a small group of very rich people; children and animals being abused; politicians arguing about abortion and sex, instead of creating jobs; Brits still wondering how horse meat got into their hamburgers; chemical companies controlling our food supply; and the Republican Party solidifying its identity as the embodiment of racist reaction to the nation's first black president.

On the Back Page, An Oasis of Inspiration

In exhaustion, I turned to sports, to baseball's All Star Game. That led me to Mariano Rivera, an oasis of inspiration, reassurance and dignity in a world seemingly gone mad.

"Dignity" is not a word often used in connection with sports figures these days. Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are eroding trust in the athletes, and alcohol and drug-connected behavior are making respect difficult to bestow.

But Rivera, known as "Mo" to legions of spoiled Yankee fans, has always been the model of dignified behavior. No hint of cheating. No scandal. No bad-mouthing opponents. Just consistent excellence and humility.

That he also turned out to be the best ever at what he does on a baseball field makes him all the more special. If you're a front-of-the-paper reader, Rivera is a "closer," the pitcher brought in at the end of a game your team is winning to shut down the other team and divest it of any ideas it might have about mounting a come-from-behind rally.

Over the years at Yankee Stadium, the mere sight of Rivera jogging in from the bullpen to the sounds of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blaring from the public address system was enough to silence opponents' bats before he even threw a pitch. No one has saved more games than the slender Panamanian, and on Tuesday night, July 16, 2013, he appeared in Major League Baseball's All Star Game for the last time.

This is Rivera's farewell-tour year. He is retiring at age 43 with more saves than anyone else. He has been given warm welcomes, and treated with admiration and respect, in every ballpark the Yankees visit for the final time in the season. He has also asked to have an informal meeting with employees of each team on his last visit--to thank them for what they do. Ushers, security guards, grounds crew members, cleaning crew members, and office workers have all had a chance to chat with the Yankees' new goodwill ambassador. 

At the All Star game, which this year was played in the new stadium of the New York Mets, the Yankees' crosstown rival, Rivera received a standing ovation from every fan and all-star in attendance. The ovation lasted 90 seconds, and the rest of his team did not take the field in the eighth inning until the ovation was over, leaving him alone on the pitcher's mound to soak up the love. Then he retired the three batters he faced and his work was done.

The official "save" would go to Joe Nathan, who pitched the ninth inning, but Mo saved the night for me on Facebook. It's not that I ignore the other stuff, the issues and causes and injustices of the world. In fact, it's what I usually write about. I have had a career, in fact, writing about man's incredible capacity for stupidity and cruelty. But I have always appreciated a standing ovation for a Pavarotti, a Perlman, a Fonteyn, a Streep. The best of the best.

Sports figures used to be looked upon as role models, people you could point out to your children and say, "That's the way to behave.'' Those role models are hard to come by today. Ironically, Rivera has had a teammate throughout his career who also fills the bill, Derek Jeter. They have spoiled Yankee fans for a long time, and when they finally go, both will be missed.

But Tuesday was Rivera's night, in Queens and on Facebook, and for that, I am grateful. I will return soon enough to writing about greed, arrogance, ignorance and bigotry, and the need to fight against all of it. But for one night it was a relief to witness excellence, elegance, admiration, dignity and mutual respect. Thanks for the save, Mo.


Bob Gaydos is a veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and (more...)
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