Sunday, April 07, 2013


Rivera greets longtime Detroit Tigers fans

4/7/13, "Jeff Seidel: Yankees closer Mariano Rivera's rare talent worth celebrating," Detroit Free Press, Jeff Seidel

"At the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, a chain-link fence stretches around a patch of grass and weeds and rocks where Tiger Stadium used to stand. Joe Angotti squeezed through an opening in the fence on Saturday morning and dipped into the memories as he walked with his 10-year-old son, Rory. "It gave me goose bumps," said Angotti, who lives in Grosse Pointe.

So many great players played right here, at this corner, from Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Al Kaline, all the way to Mariano Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher of all time.

Rivera has simply dominated the Tigers, recording 23 consecutive saves for the Yankees against Detroit. In fact, his last blown save against Detroit was in 1999 -- in Tiger Stadium. That has turned
Rivera into a living link between the past and the present, from that weedy lot in Corktown to Comerica Park.

But it is about to come to an end.

Today, Rivera will be in uniform for his last regular-season game in Detroit because this is New York's only visit to Detroit, and he will retire at the end of the season. The Tigers plan to honor Rivera with a pregame ceremony before today's game at Comerica Park.

The Tigers will take this unusual step -- to honor an opponent -- not only because he is a great player but because he is a great man. This is the best part of Major League Baseball, the respect, honor and civility shared among teams, players and fans.

"He's the best of all time," Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said.

In many respects, this season will turn into a year-long tribute to Rivera. A victory lap around professional baseball for this living legend who has played 19 seasons for the Yankees, the most ever. That's longer than Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter (Jeter will tie the record as soon as he gets off the disabled list).

Sitting in the Yankees' clubhouse on Saturday, Rivera admitted that he doesn't know how to handle the attention. He is a man of extraordinary confidence wrapped in uncommon humility....

It is expected that Rivera will be honored throughout this season, but he has flipped the script. Rivera wants to honor those who are honoring him. He has asked to meet with pure baseball fans in every city that he visits. To thank them. And it doesn't even matter if they are Yankees' fans.

We pause here to pull our jaws off the ground. Here is a professional athlete who begs to meet with fans? To thank them?

That's about as rare as a Honus Wagner rookie card (there is no truth to the rumor that Rivera once pitched against Wagner).

On Saturday afternoon, in a room adjacent to the Yankees clubhouse, Rivera spent time with three Tigers fans, a group picked for symbolic reasons.

He met Eddie Goward, a former groundskeeper at Tiger Stadium; Steven Rollins of Gaylord, a Navy man who has served three combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq; and John O'Neil Sr., who was born in Detroit and has been a season-ticket holder since 1991 in Tiger Stadium.

Rivera posed for pictures and signed autographs for all three.

"I never left a game, like most people, when you came in to pitch," O'Neil said. "Because most people thought it was over when you came in."

"Thank you," Rivera said. "Thank you for being fans."

In his retirement, Rivera will stop saving games and he's going to try and save souls. He plans to open a church in a few months in New York. "It's a church for people to congregate and sing to the Lord," Rivera said. "I have a passion for souls. To preach the word of God. To me, that's everything."

Rivera's legacy and influence stretches into the Tigers' bullpen. He played with Phil Coke in New York, and they became close.

"I have immense respect for Mariano Rivera as a person, first of all," Coke said. "He took me under his wing. He didn't have to do that. He really took his time, explaining things about the game to me."
Out in the bullpen, Rivera is like a professor holding class for young relievers.

"He taught me to have the conviction and confidence in myself," Coke said, "to throw the pitch with confidence, whatever pitch it may be."

A few years ago, Justin Verlander sat with Rivera at an awards banquet.

"What a great guy, very classy," Verlander said. "I've had the utmost admiration for him since I was younger. Getting to see him work in person is more impressive than seeing him on TV all those years."

When Verlander was told that Rivera has never blown a save in Comerica Park, Verlander had a simple wish.

"Let's hope we have a lead and don't see him," Verlander said, with a smile.

Verlander got his wish on Saturday, as the Tigers earned a 8-4 victory over the Yankees.
Rivera sat in the bullpen and didn't even warm up. Which was a great sight for the Tigers. Yes, they will honor him today. But, with all due respect, they just hope he doesn't pitch today." "
photo above, "New York's Mariano Rivera poses with, from left, Steven Rollins, Eddie Goward and John O'Neil Sr. on Saturday at Comerica Park. / JOHN LOWE/Detroit Free Press" 

"New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera is seen in the dugout before a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit, Sunday, April 7, 2013," ap

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