By Jimmy Cunningham, howiGit.com New York Writer, Manhattan, NY
Earlier this week after watching the Giants fall to 0-3 with a dismal performance against the Panthers and the Yankees eliminated from playoff contention, I muttered to myself “I hate sports.” For months I looked forward to football and for months I invested myself in this bad Yankee season – what did I have to show it? Why do I care so much when often I feel so terrible with the result? I got my answer Thursday night. I was lucky enough to be in the bleachers for Mariano Rivera’s last game in Yankee Stadium. While watching Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte come to take Mariano out one last time my arms hurt from clapping and it took everything I had to keep the tears in.
But why? Why did it mean so much to me to watch a player play his last game? Part of it has to do with the timeframe. I was introduced to Mariano when I was 9 years old. Although Mariano did not have a huge impact that season, the 1995 season included the first baseball game I have memory of being upset about (when the Yankees lost to the Mariners in the playoffs). The next year Mariano was the set up guy for what was the first of 5 championships for the Yankees during his tenure. For a ten year old that loved the Yankees, Mariano Rivera was a super hero. Although it has been pointed out that he is not perfect (who is?), to a young kid he was. In my mind no one could beat him, the game was over when he came in, and to me he was perfect. I remember thinking it was not possible when Rivera gave up the series clinching run against the Diamondbacks in 2001. Part of why Thursday night was so special is I was watching a super hero play in person for the last time.
Another part is history. Mariano is the best closer to ever play the game. You can not argue any other player. You will be hard pressed to find a stat about closers that does not read 1. Mariano Rivera. Rarely do you get to see the best ever at what they do, not only in sports but in all walks of life. Yankee fans happen to be lucky enough to be alive to root for the baseball team that Rivera was on. Watching the best do it for the last time would have been special no matter who it was or what team they played for.
The last part is who Mariano Rivera is. If you can find me one controversy from Mariano Rivera on or off the field I am all ears. In today’s day and age that is rare enough. Add in the fact that Mariano has been on the same team his entire career, and was able to contribute to 5 championships. That is a resume that we may never see again. Will there be another closer to top Mariano’s numbers? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Will there be someone who tops his numbers, has the longevity in terms of career and team, has the championships, the character, and across the board respect from his peers and fans? I wouldn’t put my money on it. I can’t think of any current candidates, but only time will tell.
The Yankees team is in transition – for the first time since 1993 a meaningless game for the Yankees was played in Yankee stadium. Last night might not have only been the last game for Mariano, but possibly also Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson. Andy Pettitte pitched his last game in Yankee Stadium over the weekend and the fear that no one wants to talk about is that Derek Jeter might decide to quietly walk away this off season. The Yankees were losing and had been pretty terrible all night, but none of that mattered for 20 minutes. I got to see the best of all time and one of my childhood super heroes one last time. As I walked out of the stadium with my brother I had a special feeling and I realized this is what we have to show and this is why we care so much about a game.