All this week, ESPN New York is celebrating the career of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera with an oral history of baseball's all-time saves leader through the words of his teammates and opponents, as told to ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo, Matt Ehalt and Andrew Marchand, and ESPN The Magazine's Louise Cornetta.
When Mo's teammates talk about him, they mention the advice he gives, the example he sets and, perhaps most of all, his character.
Shawn Kelley (new to the Yankees' bullpen in 2013): "Coming from another organization you always hear about 'great guy, great teammate, unbelievable.' You heard everything about him and when you meet him he doesn't disappoint you or let you down. You meet him and are like, 'Wow.' You almost think no one could live up to those expectations or nobody could be that good or that unflawed that people can say that. But when you meet him, he's the real deal, he's the full package and he's what everyone thinks he is."
Two things: Greatest closer in the game and one of the best teammates I ever had.
”-- Robinson Cano, on what comes to mind when he hears the name Mariano Rivera
Dellin Betances (Rivera's teammate since 2011): "Being a hometown New Yorker, I always grew up watching the Yankees and Mariano was always one of those guys you watched and are like, 'Man, I wish I could meet that guy.' Now becoming teammates with him is an honor for me to be around him and be in the bullpen."
Adam Warren (Rivera's teammate since 2012): "When we were in Tampa, I think the first year we got signed we got a chance to go on the field while they were playing the Rays. Taking my photo with Mo and taking my photo with Derek [Jeter]. I still have those pictures. I remember how cool it was to see those guys and think I may have a chance to play with them someday. To be able to be teammates with them now and talk to them and pick their brains is pretty amazing."
Betances (on meeting Mo): "It was nerve-racking, I guess. At first I was like, 'Oh man, I can't believe I'm standing next to Mariano.' But he's a real humble guy, nice guy and tries to teach you as much stuff as he can. He loves working with the younger guys."
Warren: "He pulls me aside every now and then if I have a rough game or something and gives me some advice. Sometimes how to pitch, sometimes how to approach the mental aspect of the game. He has helped me pitch at this level and taking me on his wing a little bit and kind of shown me the way."
Robinson Cano (Rivera's teammate since 2005, on meeting Mo): "You know what I remember is when you’re in the minor leagues, you always see all these guys up in the big leagues who are the best in the world and you might be afraid to say hi. But he was a guy who would say, 'Hey, how you doing?' He was always coming up to guys. That’s one of the best things about him, you always feel comfortable around him. You don’t feel like this is Mariano Rivera and you have to be careful or don’t want to bother him. His door is always open. He’s always available for whatever you want.”
You almost think no one could live up to those expectations or nobody could be that good or that unflawed that people can say that. But when you meet him, he’s the real deal, he’s the full package and he’s what everyone thinks he is.
”-- Shawn Kelley
LaTroy Hawkins (Mets reliever and Rivera's teammate in 2008): "I will more remember just being around him. He told me about playing in New York and showing me the ropes about playing and living in New York and everything that comes with it. That was one of our first conversations. His best advice to me about playing in New York was to do well, then you won’t have to worry about anything and they will love you and stay out of trouble."
Cano: "We went to dinner one time in Anaheim. He’s a guy who is always around his family and [yet] he takes the time to take a rookie out to dinner and that really meant a lot to me. I remember we went to Benihana. That was one of my best days in baseball because I got to go out with Mariano and I was just a rookie. To be able to spend time with him and ask questions really meant a lot. I asked just questions about baseball and how he can stay in the game so long and how he can stay so humble. Those kind of things that you want to ask the guy. He picked up the tab of course. I would have no chance to pay with him."
Austin Romine (Yankees catcher since 2011): "I remember the first time I caught him was my major league debut. … I caught his 599th save. I remember not even knowing where I was and just trying not to mess it up for him. … Since this was my debut, I was kind glad it was just over. I was glad I didn’t mess anything up. I remember he told me, ‘Great job,’ and patted me on the chest. I think he knew that I was a little worked up being my first time and he made me feel real comfortable. I went out to talk to him when he first came into the game and he was like, ‘Just go. Relax and have fun. We’re going to get through this.’ He didn’t have to say anything. He could have just came in there and said, ‘Go back there and go catch,’ but he made me feel comfortable and calm. That’s who he is and what he does to the people around him."
Sometimes simply sharing Rivera's spotlight has been a thrill for his fellow Yankees.
David Adams (Yankees rookie): "The only thing that sticks out to me is how electrifying the crowd gets and the Stadium gets every time he comes out to the mound. I think that's the one thing. As soon as his song comes on, he walks through the gate, it's just like boom. That's the one thing that is electrifying to me."
As soon as his song comes on, he walks through the gate, it’s just like boom. That’s the one thing that is electrifying to me.
”-- David Adams
John Flaherty (YES Network analyst and Yankees catcher from 2003 to 2005): "When I get asked [about Rivera] I think about every home game at the old Stadium, in the fifth inning, he and I would ride a golf cart beneath the Stadium [to the bullpen], and I remember those rides vividly. I’d be in the back and Mariano would acknowledge everybody along the way, and I would be on the back of the golf cart seeing these people’s faces, how they lit up, and how he handled them, how he was so kind and friendly to them. That’s what I remember. I don’t really remember the stuff on the field. Obviously, catching him was a thrill, but the way he interacted with those people every night."
Kelley: "I think one of the things that really kind of showed his character to me was how he takes 30-40 minutes out of his day like every other BP on the road to stop and sign for guys. He goes down the line and signs for all the guys. He's not asked to do that but the fact that he does that and he deals with the people sticking stuff and throwing stuff at him and he just sits there and signs for like 30-40 minutes is impressive. You don't see that. As much as everyone would like to do it, it's kind of a hassle. You have to get ready for a game. At that time, when BP is ending, you have to eat. He says, 'I can take 30 minutes out of my schedule and give back to the fans.'"
Flaherty: "We didn’t talk. He was in the front seat with the security guy. I was in the back seat. And he would get off where the bullpens were, we’d walk together. The crowd in left field would stand and react, and Mariano would acknowledge them. We’d walk in front of the visiting bullpen, the players would acknowledge him, he’d do the same and it was just, I feel like I was part of a little something special seeing him every night walking to the bullpen in the fifth inning."
What's it like to have Mariano Rivera on your team? Comforting, according to his teammates and coaches.
Joe Girardi (Yankees manager since 2008): "There are teams that worry about closers, how they're going to do from year to year ... We don't ever worry about it. We just say, 'Oh, it's Mo.' Then we work backwards from there. The Yankees have had that luxury for 17, 18 years, where most teams don't have that luxury."
CC Sabathia (Rivera's teammate since 2009): "He's always the same. Comes in, does his work, he's focused. That's just the word that comes to mind. He's just consistent in every way. Just being able to be on his team and have the feeling that when he comes in the game, it's pretty much over. For the last five years I've had that. That's been awesome."
Kevin Long (Yankees hitting coach since 2007): "There's never going to be a Mariano Rivera again. Ever. He's that special. The human being, the baseball player. Just the rock and the foundation he's been since he's been here, it's remarkable. He's going to be missed in a big way."
Larry Rothschild (Rivera's pitching coach since 2011): "It's an honor [to be his pitching coach]. Any time you're around the guy that is probably the best in the game and maybe the best ever at what's he doing no matter how much you've seen and what you've done, it's an honor to be around, especially when you see the way he's carried himself."
And a few last words, from the Captain:
Derek Jeter (Rivera's teammate for more than two decades): "Our relationship goes beyond just on the field. We’re like brothers. ... What have I learned from him? I think we’ve learned things together. Mo’s a pitcher and I’m a position player. So it’s a different craft even though we’re on the same team. But I think our personalities are similar, that’s why we get along so well. We’re similar in terms of what the goal is and that’s to win. The goal is to come here every single day and do your job and pretty much stay on an even keel.
"There are so many things that we have been through. You are talking about 21 years since the minor leagues. I remember Mo, he was a starter in the minor leagues. He was coming off [elbow] surgery [which he had in August of 1992] and I used to count his pitches at short [at Class A Greensboro in 1993] and I used to run up there and say, ‘Look, man, you are wasting too many pitches. You have to start throwing more strikes.’ He would be on [a short pitch count] when he first was coming back. And this wasn’t the days where they had pitch counts on the scoreboard. So I would count his pitches at short. He would say, ‘OK, OK, OK.’
"It just shows that he worked hard at everything he does, but he worked extremely hard at his rehab, too. It’s not an easy thing to come back from.
"[As a closer] you still have to worry about pitch counts, but yeah, he was a starter in the minor leagues, a starter when he first came up, and then when we came back up in September , that’s when he went to the bullpen, and that turned out to be a good thing for him.
"It’s funny how things work out sometimes."