Sports fans across the nation stopped what they were doing last year and paid attention when word spread that Mariano Rivera had collapsed while shagging balls during batting practice. It was a moment that tugged at the emotions of humans from all walks of life and transcended any one sport. It was a moment when people everywhere paused and took notice of what was happening with the greatest MLB closer of all time.
The reason for the attention goes far beyond just keeping up on the latest news. It goes deeper than the car crash gawker curiosity. No, the attentiveness of the world was focused on more than just a baseball player and an injury. It was much more than that, it was Rivera, a staple of American history and a part of our nation’s iconic lore.
Rivera has been a part of the New York Yankees for as long as grown-up Yankees fans have been alive. He has been a fixture on the mound in New York since George Bush was President of the United States–the first George Bush.
He owns loads of records, trophies, titles and rings and he has done it all with a smile on his face. His love for the game is evident in the gleam in his eyes every time he takes the field. No pitcher has ever closed out more high-pressure situations than Rivera and every year, he has come back to do it better than he did the year before.
His youthful exuberance defies the effects of Father Time. Look at how he was injured last season! He tore an ACL while shagging balls at batting practice! It was something he had done his entire career and he was not going to let the advancement of age take that away from him. He was out there doing what he had always done and when he went down, it made the sporting world imagine the game without one of its longest-tenured heroes.
At 42 years of age, and with a torn ACL, no one would have blamed Rivera if he hung up his cleats. Many even thought it was inevitable. The stoic closer had other plans, though, and is currently with the team for Spring Training, preparing to return for another season of ninth inning magic.
It will be the last season Rivera prepares for, though.
Baseball will be different without Rivera on the mound, just as it was last season. It will be tough to see an American icon walk away from the game after 23 years of service. Thankfully, this season is yet to be played and we can all enjoy that, even if it is just for this one last time.