Exclusive Q&A with Mariano Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr.

June 2, 2013 – On May 20, I conducted an exclusive interview Mariano Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr. in Baltimore, and the Q&A feature will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2013 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.

The 40-minute conversation between the two baseball legends and I took place in the visiting dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards (see photo below).

The interview had special meaning to me, because I’ve had the honor of working with both Ripken and Rivera during my career, and they are two of the very best people I’ve ever been around.

I was a member of the Baltimore Orioles media relations department in 2001, which was Ripken’s final season in the game. I had the privilege of being around the Hall of Fame shortstop/third baseman before and after every game he played in Baltimore — from the moment he announced that 2001would be his last season through the final time he wore the Orioles uniform.

As a member of the Yankees front office, I have worked with Rivera since 2003, and it’s been especially meaningful to cover the closer in 2013, which is his final season in the game.

In the interview, which focused the final chapters of Rivera and Ripken’s respective careers, I asked the icons to describe the emotions they felt as they prepared to announce their retirements. I was compelled to ask the question because I walked with Ripken (in 2001) and Rivera (in spring training earlier this year) to the press conferences in which they announced that there was an end date for their careers. Both of those experiences were memorable, and in both cases, it was clear to me that the players had mixed emotions.

“My emotions were fine as I walked in to the room,” Rivera began. “I knew what I wanted to say. But when I turned around and saw the whole team, the owner and members of the front office, that shook me. That almost got me but I was able to stay composed and do what I needed to do. I’m at peace with my decision, and when you’re at peace with what you’re going to do, everything runs smoothly.”

“I felt all kinds of emotions at that moment,” Ripken said. “Mariano did a nice job of explaining the meaning of being around a group of guys, and that’s ultimately what you’re saying goodbye to. It’s not necessarily about stopping your playing career as much as it is about leaving an atmosphere that you love being in. I was at peace with my decision, as well, because I had a full career. But it was letting go of being part of a team that was pulling at me. You could cry, you could laugh, or you could jump up and pump your fist in the air. All of those things were right on the edge for me.”

After a brief pause, Ripken addressed Rivera.

“There were certain moments that pulled at me during my last season,” Ripken said. “I’m sure you’re going to have them as the days wind down, if you haven’t felt it already. But, you can always change your mind and keep playing.”

I also asked the legendary ballplayers what it means to have played for one team during their entire careers.

“Well, it becomes your identity,” Ripken said. “I can take that one step further, I’m from Maryland, so I grew up watching the Orioles and loving the Orioles. Then the Orioles drafted me, and I worked hard to make it to the majors. Then I decided to stay here for my entire career. Every player wants what Mariano and I have — stability with one team, identity with one team and happiness with one team. I have a special bond with the people of Baltimore, and that’s the ultimate. Other players get criticized for moving around, but management makes many of those decisions. If you ask every player if they would prefer to play for one team, they would all say yes.”

“It’s special,” Rivera added. “It’s a privilege. As Cal said, you have to work hard enough to make it. Then you have to be consistent, and the team has to want you to stay. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do my job all these years and that the Yankees have always wanted me to be here. I’m honored to wear the Yankees uniform.”

At the end of the interview, Ripken and Rivera shared their thoughts about each other.

“Cal is the ultimate,” Rivera said. “I’ve always had the highest respect for the way he represented the Baltimore Orioles. I’ve always tried to emulate players like Cal, who never showed anyone up. That’s class and pride personified. Cal did that for the Baltimore Orioles. I couldn’t be more proud to know him.”

“You can see that Mariano has respect for the game and that he loves the game,” Ripken added. “Through his actions, he shows it every day. There are a lot of kids who want to be big league players but don’t have enough talent to make it. In a way, guys like Mariano and I are representing all of them with our behaviors, and you want to act accordingly and respect and honor the game. Mariano respects the game, and the way he acts makes people gravitate toward him. He leads more so by example than with his words. I couldn’t have more respect than I do for Mariano. He’s the perfect role model for kids who want to be closers, because he doesn’t jump around and pump his fist when he records the final out of a game. Every young player should aspire to be like Mariano.”

Again, this entire interview — with the last two players whose careers were celebrated throughout the country during their final seasons — will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2013 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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