Imagine a little kid screaming that line. Over and over again. And then some more. Picture him staring at a sea of All-Stars and honing in on one player. The greatest of them all.
Allow this diversion from the usual AlamoCityTimes.com sports focus on all things local and San Anto. A moment to tip a hat and pay respect to one of the greatest athletic careers your humble Sports Narrator has ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
This is Spurs playoff season after all, a time when the home team extends the SA’s Fiesta celebration. Preferably into the summer.
But the news emanating from Kansas City last night was a tremor felt all around the world of sports. Anywhere sports fans that admire class, dignity and most importantly, grace under pressure had to shed an inner tear upon hearing that the “Greatest Relief Pitcher of All Time” (GRPOAT), Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, saw his season, and perhaps his career crumble to a close on the Royals’ turf on Thursday night.
It wasn’t the ninth inning, with the bases loaded and two outs when Mariano went down. In what could become one of the cruelest baseball twists of fate ever, Rivera tore the ACL in his right knee during pre-game batting practice. Batting practice.
Say it in your best Allen Iverson voice: “Practice… I mean, we’re talking about BATTING PRACTICE.”
An emotional Rivera talked to the NY press about his future: “At this point, I don’t know. We have to face this first. I want to think and pray a little bit before I make decisions of whatever happens.”
The next day Mariano made this much clear: he is NOT done. He will NOT retire. Rivera refuses to let his spectacular career end in a heap during batting practice.
Mo says he will return to pitch in 2013.
Still, angry Yankee fans and talk radio blowhards didn’t wait for the first 60 minutes of the 24-hour news cycle to begin the cat calls: “What the heck was the GRPOAT doing shagging fly balls in the outfield.?!?”
Why? Because that’s what all players do. Even pitchers.
Even more key: the 42-year old Rivera LOVED shagging fly balls. In fact, Mariano was hoping to get one crack, just ONE shot at playing center field in a game before his fast-track Hall of Fame career was through.
Now back to the kid quote:
Flashback to the 2004 season. The Yankees are in Arlington for a series vs. the Texas Rangers. This is the conversation between a father and his 9-year old son standing along the third base line fence during the NY batting practice session:
Father: “You see that guy in left field? #42? That’s your target: Mariano Rivera… make sure he notices you.”
Son: “Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!! Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o!!”
The kid’s ‘Mo-call’ continued as Yankee after Yankee took their turn at the plate. Mariano shagging balls hit his way. The boy playing the part of a single song playing on repeat. By all accounts, this cute kid was suddenly immensely annoying with the non-stop appeal to Rivera.
Finally, as if to give all the fans in that left field area some relief (no pun intended, but it works), Rivera turns to the young Yankee fan, places his index finger up to his lips and says:
“SH-H-H-H-H-H-H-H-H-H-H! I see you!”
Little boy turns back to his dad and big sister, now jumping in place in eager anticipation, looking like he needed to run to the bathroom.
Then it happens. A random ball is hit down that fence line past third base, rolling unnoticed in foul territory. Unnoticed to all except Rivera.
Mariano proceeds to jog to the ball. Ignoring the thunderous screams from fans begging for the souvenir to be tossed, the GRPOAT walked over to the beaming little fan, who was ready with a Sharpie.
Rivera signs the ball, hands it to the boy, and gives him a gentle tap on his ball cap brim: “You know, you’re pretty loud for such a little kid,” said a laughing Mo.
It’s fitting that no MLB player on any team will ever wear Jackie Robinson’s iconic #42 after Rivera retires. Mariano embodies the class and dignity that Robinson displayed while breaking baseball’s color barrier. Nobody’s been better. Nobody ever will.
But now the time come for the FULL DISCLOSURE portion of this tale:
I am, and have been as long as I’ve chosen teams, a die hard New York Yankees fan. Yes, I’ve successfully brainwashed my kids into being Yanks fans. And yes, that family making the summer trek to Arlington to see the Bronx Bombers invade Texas was mine.
The man who made love to baseball playoff pressure well before Stephen Jackson had even taken a big shot in college recognized the moment before him. Mariano’s recognition of the moment, small to him, but large to us, made for a magical memory.
A moment that my son, Mauro, that kid who was so loud in such a small package, will never forget.
A moment this Dad, your still-humble Sports Narrator, will cherish forever.
I’ll repeat what I told Rivera then: “Muchas gracias, Mariano!”
Thank you, indeed.
Just glad it’s not time to say good-bye for good. See you next year, Mo.
I’ll be the guy with the screaming teenager.