There is going to be a lot said in the next few days about pretty much everything and anything Mariano Rivera related. You will read all about his marvelous career, the World Series rings, his incredible 'cutter', perhaps one of the most feared pitches in all of Major League Baseball.
For me, one of the most biased and dedicated Red Sox fans you could find, not nearly enough will be written about the man's dignity and grace.
In a world of 'Me First', millionaire, playboy super-athletes, Mariano was or is, depending on whether this terrible injury ends his career or not, a pure diamond in the rough. A gentleman in the truest sense of the word, Rivera was a fierce competitor but a tremendous sports-man also.
For many years Rivera was the torturer, the executioner in chief for Red Sox fans like myself. How many late inning rallies did Rivera's cutter shut-down? Too many. He often did it like a man putting out a flaming match with a massive bucket of water. All too easy.
Then, finally, in 2004, we got to him.
In the infamous 2004 ALCS the great Rivera 'blew' two save opportunities, and the Red Sox created the best and most dramatic comeback in sports, roaring back from 0-3 down to take it 4-3. It was a jubilant time to be a fan of Ye Olde Towne Team.
Then came the 2005 ring ceremony at Fenway Park. This for me, as a Red Sox fan, is the defining moment in Mariano's career, or at least the part that is compartmentalized and titled 'Mariano and the Red Sox'. As the sun-drenched Fenway crowd roared it's approval, the Red Sox received their World Series rings from the '04 finals. As the Yankee players were introduced to the home-opener crowd, the Red Sox fans booed mercilessly. One by one, to a man, a cascade of verbal abuse rained down on them as they came forth.
Then, something truly unbelievable happened. Mariano's name was called, and the Fenway Park crowd quite literally erupted into an enormous standing ovation. Mariano laughed, beaming from ear to ear, and tipped his hat to the crowd, drawing an extension to the already boisterous ovation.
The thing is, this was not a mocking or ironic ovation. Far from it. Anyone who witnessed it knows that. Instead, it was a moment shared between the massed ranks of Red Sox fans shoe-horned into Fenway that day, and the greatest closer of all time. It was a singular moment where a connection was felt between the two. There was nothing ugly or negative about it, something the current denizens of Fenway Nation could possibly learn from. It was an uproarious outpouring of relief, as if Fenway was throwing its arms in the air and roaring as one, 'Finally!! Finally we got to you, you glorious bastard you!''. It was a roar full of good natured humour, respect and, yes, even love.
The crowd offered it, and Mariano The Great validated it by laughing openly and tipping his hat.
"It surprised me. I didn't know they loved me so much here. It was nice. I enjoyed it. I had to laugh. What was I going to do? Get upset and start throwing baseballs at people? You just roll with it. Why not celebrate it as high as they could? It's O.K. I have no problem with that."
Mariano, you are one in a million.
Get well soon.