Tonight, my childhood ended. It ended in tears even though I said it wouldn't, and it ended with a desperate desire to make a moment that lasted a few seconds last forever. Legally, I've been an adult for nine years, but there were always those pieces and mementos that I tried to hang on to: There's my Harry Potter books, my stuffed bear I only recently passed on to my 2-year-old niece, and, until Thursday night, there was Mariano Rivera.
He was there, though sometimes, in the beginning, you might have forgotten -- the quiet, skinny kid -- but at some point you realized that you were watching something else. Maybe it happened as early as 1996, when he pitched 107 innings, all of them in relief. Maybe it happened in 2000, when Rivera broke Whitey Ford's postseason record of 33.1 scoreless innings. Maybe it was in 2003, when Rivera pitched three shutout innings against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS. I'm not sure when it happened for me, but it did.
It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't like baseball or sports why you can get emotional over a guy you've never met and someone you've only watched from afar. It's like this: When everything in your life changes, it's nice to have a constant. Rivera started pitching for the Yankees when I was in third grade; his Game 7 win in the 2003 ALCS came the day after my college interview. His career still had 10 years to go when most baseball players last only just over five years. No matter how good or mediocre the Yankees were (the Yankees have finished above .500 every year of Rivera's major league career), Rivera was, well, Rivera.
Many people will tell you it's wrong to make myths out of mortals. They're not wrong; Rivera is a man, not a god. Here's the thing: You don't need to be a god to make someone's life better. Do your job well, don't pretend to be something you're not, own your mistakes and, who knows, maybe something amazing will happen. That, for me, was the essence of Rivera on the baseball field. Humility is a virtue that is easier to preach than to embody, and yet, in refusing exaggerated emotion on the field in all but the most extenuating postseason circumstances, Rivera made it that much easier for us to root for him.
So when Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came out to take the ball from Rivera one last time, Rivera cried, and I admit, I cried. It turns out that on very rare occasions there is crying in baseball -- and it can be beautiful.