TORONTO - There isn't much - in fact there may not be anything - that hasn't already been written or said about Mariano Rivera
About the man: a person of faith, humble, charitable and always willing to help others.
About the pitch: the cut fastball which has baffled hitters, even though they know it's coming, and broken more bats than anyone cares to count.
About the player: Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader with 652, who's accomplished the feat with one team in an era of rampant player movement.
The legendary Yankees' closer is into the final weeks of his Hall of Fame career. He's making his last stop in Toronto as a professional baseball player and, like anything else Rivera says, you believe him when he expresses his appreciation of visiting the city so many times over the years.
“It's a great city to play in,” said Rivera. “We have had here tremendous games, tough games, big games but at the same time they've all been wonderful. It's great to play here and play against the Toronto Blue Jays for all these years.”
Rivera and his wife, Clara, have run The Mariano Rivera
Foundation since its founding in July, 1998. The charity provides scholarships to further the educational needs of underprivileged students and sponsors churches and youth centres.
It reaches across the United States and as far south as Rivera's native Panama.
“I always try to do it,” said Rivera. “Not only Panama but wherever we need to help and that is something that I'm proud of. Not that I want to be recognized for that, but I do it because I was helped once and I always wanted to help others. That makes me feel good - knowing that I can touch one life and we can make that life better.”
During his season-long farewell tour, Rivera has met with employees from each opposing ballclub. Twenty long-time Blue Jays employees had an opportunity to spend an hour with Rivera during New York's previous visit in late August. Rivera shook hands, answered questions and posed for photos.
It was Rivera's chance to thank the people who work hard behind the scenes.
“I like how people appreciate the game and those are the ones you don't even see,” he said. “They're the ones you don't even know about, but at the same time they do something for the game, appreciate the game and appreciate what you do.”
Rivera is also known to be giving of his time to his fellow ballplayers. Earlier this season, at Yankee Stadium, he held court with the Blue Jays' large contingent of Spanish-speaking players.
At the All-Star Game, in New York City, but hosted by the Mets, Jays relievers Steve Delabar
and Brett Cecil
approached him for baseball-related conversation.
did the same thing, two years ago, when Santos was with the White Sox.
“I had a 30-minute conversation with him out in the outfield and he was so awesome and open to letting me ask him any question I had,” said Santos. “I had just become a closer so I had a bunch of questions and he sat there and spoke with me and answered every question I had. He's just an amazing person and an amazing player.”
Santos picked Rivera's brain on thought process - How should he approach hitters on days he knows he doesn't have his best stuff? What about when he's feeling too good? If a runner gets aboard, a noted base stealer, how best do you divide your attention?
“Just how adamant he was about going from pitch to pitch, not letting your mind wander to the next hitter or to what the situation is or letting any of that happen,” said Santos. “Just going, really simplifying it to the max, where it's pitch by pitch. You get your pitch and then you try as best as you can to execute that pitch and once that pitch is over, whether it was executed or not, you forget it, it's done with and you try to go on to the next pitch.”
The cut fastball, Rivera's go-to pitch, remains a mystery even to the pitcher himself. In the absence of a human to credit or, more likely because Rivera truly believes it, he looks skyward when asked to explain the success he's had against hitters who don't have to consider pitch selection.
“That's the Lord. That's God, because no one taught it to me,” said Rivera. “I can't say to you that my pitching coach taught me that. I cannot say that. It happened for a reason and that's what I attribute it to, to the Lord.”
“You know, still to this day, no hitter's figured it out,” said Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes
. “You know it's only one pitch. He's going to go with the hard cutter. You're looking for the cutter and still you're not able to put a good swing on that baseball. It's unbelievable what he's been able to do.”
“I mean, he's a little bit different now,” added Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “He's working both sides of the plate now. You know, really, in his prime it would be in to lefties and away to right-handers. It was that overpowering cutter. You knew it was coming, you could see it. You just can't do anything with it. As far as a left-hander, it starts in the middle of the plate and it keeps chasing you. You think you can get out in front of it and maybe catch it out front. You can't. With the right-handers, you see it there, it disappears and basically you're lucky if you get it off the end of the bat and it usually leads to a broken bat.”
Rivera has thrived in New York. Like Derek Jeter
, his long time teammate and fellow Yankees' legend, his behaviour has been above reproach.
He has created a Yankee Stadium tradition in which Metallica's metal anthem “Enter Sandman” is followed, three outs later, by Frank Sinatra's classic “New York, New York.”
Trusting Sinatra's words, Rivera's made it in New York, which means he could make it anywhere.
With 652 saves, and likely more to come, he's backed up a legend's words with his own legendary actions.