He has helped the Yankees win a number of championships since that time, and in the process, has become one of the finest (arguably the best) “closers” of all-time.
After an early-season knee injury a year ago caused him to miss virtually the entire 2012 season, he was determined to return for one last year in Yankee pinstripes. And he is indeed back.
But beyond his remarkable recovery from a serious injury as an athlete in his 40’s (he is now 43), the Panama-born pitcher has made a point of doing his “farewell tour” differently than most. Rather than focusing on himself, in his final visit to play the teams the Yankees have competed against all these years, Rivera has asked, in every city he visits, to meet and spend time with employees from those organizations. He wants to express his personal ‘thank you’ to those who make the game possible, and who, indirectly (perhaps directly, by their good work) have assisted him in becoming what he is.
Here is a link to one of the many articles (via Sports Illustrated) that have appeared about Rivera’s outlook. He has sought out office staff, grounds crew employees, fans—any and all individuals who contribute behind the scenes to their organizations and the game of baseball, but do so usually without attention or thanks.
It is an unusual way to say “goodbye” to the game that has made him famous—and wealthy. But it says something about Rivera that he has made a point of thanking others on his way out the door—shaking hands, posing for pictures, signing autographs but most importantly, just talking privately, one-on-one. And he is spending time primarily with those who are never in the limelight themselves, but without whom the game would not function as smoothly as it does.
Rivera will be remembered as a Hall-of-Famer, an all-time Yankee—and baseball—great.
For those he will connect in this unique manner throughout the rest of the 2013 season, he may be remembered a bit differently. But the memories will likely be no less special.
Athletes may not always be considered positive role-models any more, and understandably so, but for young athletes looking for someone to emulate—in terms of attitude, behavior, work ethic and humility—Rivera might be a good place to start.