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Mariano Magic: Shagging Family Memories

NY Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is carried off the field in Kansas City after suffering a season ending knee injury. Courtesy: YES Network/AP

“Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!!!”

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.

“Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!!!”

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.

“Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!!!”

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.

Mariano Rivera - The GRPOAT

Just call Rivera the GRPOAT - The Greatest Relief Pitcher of All Time

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:

“Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!!!”

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.

“Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!! Mariano-o-o-o-o-o-o!!”

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.

Little Yankee Fans

For a little kid, this guy can get loud. Really loud.

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.

The Last #42 in the MLB

Rivera will be the last MLB player to ever wear #42, which will be retired permanently after the Yankee closer retires in honor of Dodgers pioneer Jackie Robinson.

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.

Team Yankee Vasquez

Another successful Team Yankee Vasquez road trip to catch the Bronx Bombers at the Ballpark in Arlington.

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.

About Maury Vasquez

Maury Vasquez is part of San Antonio's sports history and tradition. Vasquez worked with the KENS-5 Sports team under the legendary Dan Cook in the 90's before joining the top rated news team at KSAT-12. His career in broadcasting expands over 20 years in San Antonio and South Texas. Today, Maury works full time as the Public Information Officer for Somerset ISD giving a voice to the Bulldog Nation of students and staff. And his love for sports continues, by co-hosting "Longhorns Unplugged" on Ticket 760 AM along with co-hosting the "SASports.com HS Football Scoreboard Show". You can also find Vasquez Saturday mornings at the Mays Family "Field of Dreams" next to Wolff Stadium, where he serves as the announcer for the Miracle League baseball spring and fall seasons. Maury Vasquez is a native of Mercedes, TX from the Rio Grande Valley who has called SA home since 1992. He is also the proud father of two children, Valerie and Mauro IV. Maury writes for AlamoCityTimes.com about whatever moves him in the world of sports to the game of life, and just about anything in between.

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