Mariano Jr.: Now I get my father back

HOUSTON -- As the New York Yankees were expressing sadness that Mariano Rivera was suiting up for them for the final time, one person sitting inside their clubhouse Sunday was happy the greatest closer of them all was ready to go.

"Now I get my father back," Mariano Rivera Jr. said.

An Iona College pitcher who turns 20 on Friday, Mariano Jr. made the trip to Houston with his family for the final series of his father's epic career. Mariano Sr. ultimately decided against pitching (in part because of a sore arm) or playing the outfield (in part because of a sore knee) against the Astros, leaving Thursday night's powerful scene in the Bronx as his fitting farewell to the game.

In a pregame ceremony Sunday that featured a short speech to the crowd from his former teammate, Roger Clemens, Rivera apologized to the Houston players and fans for sitting out these three games at Minute Maid Park.

"I'm going to be a little selfish," Rivera said of his exit from Yankee Stadium, where he cried on Andy Pettitte's shoulder and collected dirt from the mound. "I want to leave the game with that in mind."

Mariano Jr. told ESPNNewYork.com that the yearlong tributes to his father "left me speechless. It's the end of an era, and it's bittersweet. He's not competing anymore, and this has been my life for 19 years, too.

"It's amazing and sad at the same time. I don't know how you can top what happened Thursday, and I know in my father's mind he was done after that. He gave everything that he had."

Mariano Sr. spent some of his pregame time before the Yankees' final game here signing baseballs and jerseys from teammates who surrounded him at a clubhouse table. Charlie Wonsowicz, longtime Yankee staffer, remarked that Rivera looked like Santa Claus on a visit to a nursery.

The closer has left his mark like few Yankees ever have, and nobody knows that better than the son who was given his name.

"It's a weight that never goes away," said Mariano Jr., who wears No. 6 for Iona, not his father's iconic No. 42. "I won't call it a burden, but it shadows every day of my life on the field, the expectations that come with having that name. I'm my own person, and it can be a little frustrating."

A transfer from Quinnipiac, Mariano Jr. described himself as a fastball, changeup, slider pitcher. The cutter?

"I've been working on that," Mariano Jr. said, "and my father has helped. But I'll never be able to throw it like him. That's his pitch."

Now and forever.