TAMPA, Fla. -- Mariano Rivera's final word to the group of reporters who clustered around his locker Monday was simple enough to understand.
And for most of the eight-and-a-half minutes he kept us entertained after the first workout in Yankees camp 2012, he sounded an awful lot like a man headed into his final season of major league baseball.
He spoke, as retiring players often do, about the difficulty of separating from his family for yet another spring training. He said he had made his decision two or three weeks ago, admitted it was "a hard one," but declared it final.
"Irrevocable," was the word he chose, meaning nothing would change his mind, "even if I save 90 games [or] if they offer me this much money ... anything."
The only thing he wouldn't say is the word "retirement."
"Why not?" you may ask.
Why not just come out and say what seems to be clearly on his mind, get it out and over with once and for all, and be done with it?
Simple. Because if Mariano Rivera were to do that, then the next eight months would not be a season but a victory lap, no longer a pursuit but a celebration, a look back instead of what a successful championship run needs to be, a look-ahead.
And that is not what Mariano Rivera is about, not at all.
"I still have the love, my passion for the game," he said. "I love the competition. We come here with one goal. That goal is to win the World Series. That's the mentality. I don't see [just] the playoff, I want to go to the whole thing. You have to try, day in and day out. That's what motivates me."
And to do that, he can't be taking bows for past accomplishments at every ballpark in the league between now and whenever and wherever this Yankee season ends.
He doesn't need a free car or a motorcycle or an all-expenses-paid vacation for himself and his family from the Yankees or some other well-meaning organization.
All that can wait.
And he certainly doesn't want to have to relive those uncomfortable days he endured last September, as he neared the all-time saves record and every visiting reporter, as well as those of us who are around him every day, pestered him for some nugget of tabloid or internet gold.
The only time Mariano Rivera wants to be the center of attention is in the ninth inning of a baseball game, when he is on the mound looking to nail down the final three outs.
And clearly, he believes he can't give his full attention to that job if he has to do another job as well, the job of playing Mariano Rivera, Retiring Superstar.
It seems pretty obvious that after 17 seasons, it has become harder and harder for Mariano Rivera to stop being a husband and father -- he has three sons -- every February and return to the extended adolescence of being a baseball player. When 45-year-old Tim Wakefield retired last week and 49-year-old Jamie Moyer signed a minor-league deal with the Colorado Rockies, Mo, at 42, moved up the ladder to become the oldest pitcher in major league baseball.
But how long does one have to do his particular job better than anyone has ever done it before he can consider the point proven?
Rivera has been baseball's best closer for probably a dozen years, recognized as the best in history for perhaps a half-dozen, and became numerically the most prolific ever last September. He has five World Series rings, enough money to live like the king of Panama until the end of his days, and a family he hates to leave when the calendar turns over to February.
It would make perfect sense for him to walk away when his current contract expires at the end of this season, with nothing else to prove and no further goals to attain.
And it makes just as much sense for Rivera to want to do it quietly, with as little fanfare as possible, because if baseball is the ultimate team game, Mo has always been the ultimate team player.
And that means not making it about you, but about "us."
That is why, when he was asked if he might continue to work in baseball in some capacity after he was done playing, he said yes -- but specified that he would want to work only with minor leaguers. He ruled out becoming a manager ("They have to do the same thing, traveling all the time and go to spring training") or a pitching coach ("Nothing on the big league stage").
"I would want to talk to minor leaguers," he said. "They really need people to give them time."
That is something he could do away from the spotlight and the media and all the fuss that arises when a Great Ballplayer comes to town.
Or, for that matter, decides it is time to go home.
Mariano Rivera sounds very much like a guy who wants to do his job to the best of his ability one more time, and then simply go home.
And he doesn't want a brass band or a circus train to lead him there.