Thursday night – the final Yankees home game of 2013. The final home appearance of Mariano Rivera. I spent a small fortune to bring the entire family (me, Jack, Alex, Shani) and my long-time friend Pete and his fiancé.
The game was weird and not what I expected it to be. I will explain and I will begin with some background to understand what Rivera’s last game means to me.
Baseball is very different than other sports. Other sports are about two teams doing battle. Football, basketball, hockey: those sports are the fight scene from an action movie.
Baseball is about tension. It’s a suspense movie. Baseball is the hero walking down the dark alley and you’re all tensed up because you know the bad guy is going to spring out at them. For 3 hours it keeps you in a constant state of tension.
Your team comes up to bat and the whole time:
Please get a hit, please get a hit, please get a hit…
The opposing batter hits the ball into the outfield:
Please be an out, please be an out, please be an out…
A close game can be unbearable to get through – each moment you’re all wrapped up hoping for something to happen or begging for it not to happen.
That’s what made Mariano Rivera so incredible. Because for the last 19 years, whenever the Yanks were winning by one run going into the final inning, you’d be there praying that they can just hold the other team off for one last inning. And then Metallica would blare out over the stadium and everyone roared and sprang to their feet. Rivera was coming in to pitch – and you knew the game was over. The other team had no chance. The unbearable tension of the past 8 innings were now turned to joyous triumph – Enter Sandman – Yankess were going to win.
And I guess that’s what made this game so weird. Usually Rivera’s entrance was that tremendous relief of tension – but this game had none of that. The Yanks are already out of the playoffs so the game meant nothing.
I watched the game sitting next to Pete – Pete is so goddam fun to watch a game with. He played baseball in high school and he’s been a fan his whole life. He knows the ins and outs of the game and points out little things you don’t know. “He shoulda thrown at the bag, but he threw to the right so the 3rd baseman couldn’t turn it.” But at the same time, he philosophizes about the meaning of it all at the same time. “Each infielder has their own flow. Second baseman can take it slow and smooth, but short stop has a totally different rhythm.” And aside from that, he’s been one of my best friends for nearly 20 years. We’ve been to and watched dozens of games together – lots of them with Rivera involved. We had a great time catching up watching a pretty lousy game.
The Yanks played flat-footed and were losing 4-0 by the 8th inning. The crowd wasn’t into it either – they were there for Rivera nothing more. It was the 8th inning and the manager finally called to the bullpen. For the last time “Enter Sandman” began to blare over the speakers.
To be honest – it was a little bit of a letdown for me. Rivera coming in meant nothing to the game or the team. Without that amazing tension, it didn’t pack the punch I expected it to. I felt disappointed. This was supposed to be unforgettable.
Then came the 9th inning.
Rivera went in to pitch. First batter – groundout. Second batter – popout. Vintage Rivera. He was one out away…then something unexpected happened. Out of the dugout walked TWO people. Normally it’s the manager who comes out to remove a pitcher. This wasn’t the manager.
“It’s Jeter and Pettite!” Jack shouted.
Rivera has played for 19 years on the Yankees. He has saved 652 regular season games (#1 of all time), 42 post-season saves (#1 of all time), won 5 World Series (including a series MVP). And here came his longtime teammates, Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter, to take him out of his last game. From there things got VERY emotional.
Pettite took the ball and hugged Rivera. Mariano Rivera buried his face in Pettite’s shoulder and sobbed. In front of 50,291 fans, Rivera wept and held that hug for a solid 2 minutes. Dear God it was amazing.
After hugging Jeter and more crying, Rivera walked to the dugout and took his hat off to the crowd. Everyone (including me and Pete) was crying and cheering their heads off.
The game ended soon after. Jack hugged the crap out of me and kept saying thank you. Alex turned to me and announced that this was his favorite baseball game and that he had almost cried as well. Somber, tired, and worn out we made our way out the stadium with the rest of the somber, tired, and worn out crowd. Exit Sandman.
I leave you with this thought:
We were at a wedding this past weekend (blog to come soon). At breakfast we were talking baseball with some relatives. Shani’s uncle told Jack:
“I remember my father taking me to baseball games and I got to see Jackie Robinson.”
“Wow!” Jack shouted. Everyone at the table was blown away and jealous.
Don’t you think that when Jack and Alex are old men, being able to tell some kids at a wedding “I was at Mariano Rivera’s last Yankees game” will be pretty damn impressive? I do.