TAMPA, Fla. -- The long "thank you" will begin sometime after 1 p.m. on Saturday, when “Enter Sandman” blasts through the loudspeakers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, and the fans feel a chill as they watch the hourglass of greatness start to dwindle.
Legends don’t always receive a proper goodbye. Willie Mays bumbled in the outfield as a Met. Muhammad Ali took one punch too many. Pete Rose gambled away his post-retirement glory.
So the way Rivera will say goodbye is special. He has recovered from his knee injury and now will go out on his own terms.
At 10 a.m. on Saturday, he will officially tell the world that 2013 is his final season as the greatest closer of all time. A few hours later, when he enters for his first game action in nearly a year, his warm-ups will be accompanied by standing ovations that will last until October.
Whatever happens in this Yankees season, it will always be remembered as the great Mariano’s last. And fans will say thank you all day, every day.
On Saturday, Rivera will make the announcement in the white tent beyond the third-base line outside Steinbrenner Field. Unlike Alex Rodriguez or Andy Pettitte, Rivera has never appeared in the tent, trying to explain away past mistakes. Rivera has never been angry in the tent the way Derek Jeter was after his current contract was preceded by a very public and ugly negotiation.
No. 42 has never been fodder for gossip columns. As easy as he kept things on the mound -- as you know, he only serves one pitch -- that's how simple and classy he has presented himself publicly.
So there is no intrigue about who will or won’t be in attendance on Saturday. Everyone who can will be there.
Rodriguez likely would be there, too, if he wouldn't make for such a distraction. (Can you imagine how A-Rod, always such a contrast in these moments, will announce his retirement?)
Rivera said he is not nervous about Saturday. Why would he be? He has never been before. He has always kept things simple, almost unemotional. That is why he said he wasn’t even excited about returning to the mound on Saturday. He doesn’t seem impacted by anything.
Even in old TV clips that have appeared in recent days, in times of rare defeat, Rivera kept his composure. When Sandy Alomar hit his homer in the 1997 playoffs or when Luis Gonzalez won the World Series in 2001, Rivera’s face barely changed.
His demeanor barely changed in victory, too. He never looked liked the classic closer or acted like one. There was no showmanship. There were no look-at-me antics.
But this is the beginning of the end -- and all the attention will be directed his way.
The guy who has never sought attention will find himself swathed in glory. The official words of his retirement should leave Rivera’s mouth a little after 10 on Saturday morning. By the afternoon, the long goodbye -- the celebration of Rivera’s greatness -- will start, and it won’t end until Rivera closes out 2013.
The way the fans will react, even the stoic Mo might become a little emotional.