I have separation issues. I don’t like to deal with someone or something leaving until the last possible moment. I have countless examples of this throughout my life, but the most recent goes back to last baseball season.
Mariano Rivera was retiring. The game’s best closer and one my favorite player’s career was coming to an end. He could have continued without embarrassment. Rivera still had plenty left. However, he decided 2013 would be his last go-around as an MLB player.
I pretended it wasn’t happening.
There’s a good chance I have seen about 100 of Rivera’s 652 saves live. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I attended about 40 games a season – including road trips – with my high mark being around 60 in 2003. Add in playoff games I saw him compete in and the smattering of games over the last five years that I attended and the number of saves I have seen is probably around triple digits.
Every time I hear Enter Sandman, there is a leap in my heart I can’t accurately describe. But I immediately want to jump to my feet and yell at the top of my lungs – what I did every time Rivera jogged from the bullpen to the mound. That song creates a Pavlovian reaction no matter where I am: in a bar, in the car, at the gym, and always at a baseball game.
But last year I didn’t want to deal with the fact that Rivera’s baseball career was ending. I saw pictures of items he received throughout his retirement tour. It was great that he spoke to workers and fans at different ballparks. The All-Star Game was a great moment for him and his fans – there might have been a tear – and then there was the last home game at Yankee Stadium.
I didn’t go. I didn’t watch it on TV. I acted like I didn’t care. I told myself I had seen enough of Rivera throughout my life, and one game wouldn’t change the way I feel about him.
However, that night when I was alone, I put on SportsCenter and watched the highlights. Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte met Rivera on the mound to take him out of the game. They hugged. They cried.
Rivera’s career was over in that moment. He shared it with some of his longtime teammates and with a roaring crowd at Yankee Stadium – screaming and chanting his name, saying thanks in the way they had during his 19-year career.
This card reminds me that we shouldn’t be sad because it’s over, but happy that it happened (Dr. Seuss or someone said that). Jeter and Rivera are smiling and I’m sure Pettitte has the same grin on his face if we saw the moment from another angle.
Rivera was one of the best I got to see play baseball and not even for how he made a baseball dance with his cutter, but in the way that he seemed to treat the game and carry himself. If I only had to own one card from 2014 Topps, this would most certainly be it.
I’m glad I was able to get one today.