Yankees Honor Mariano Rivera in Emotional Ceremony

September 22, 2013 – In the recent history of the Yankees, there have been several stirring ceremonies in the Bronx, including the final game festivities at the old Yankee Stadium. That night was special and unforgettable. It was emotional, and it was historic.

But, today’s 45-minute pre-game ceremony, in which the career of Mariano Rivera was celebrated, included some of the most heart-warming and emotional moments I’ve ever witnessed on a baseball field.

The ceremony began in Monument Park as the Yankees dedicated and unveiled a plaque in honor of Jackie Robinson. The late pioneer’s wife Rachel and daughter Sharon unveiled the plaque. From there, the group of people in Monument Park, which also included Rivera’s family, walked to the area in which the retired numbers are located. As Rachel Robinson began the slow walk, Rivera’s wife, Clara, grabbed her hand – and the two walked hand in hand. It was a fitting gesture, and a wonderful one.

When the group arrived on the other side of Monument Park, Rivera pulled a curtain off a Yankees’ pinstriped No. 42 plate, signifying that his number was officially retired.

Rivera then walked into the bullpen, while a collection of great Yankees were introduced at home plate. When Tino Martinez and David Cone were introduced — and they were two of the first three players to be announced — I was taken aback by the length and loudness of the ovations they each received. Then, as the introductions went on, I realized that today’s ceremony meant more to the sold-out crowd then most every other sporting event. The ovations for Joe Torre, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams (among others) were thunderous, and they lasted nearly a minute each.

After all of the great Yankees were introduced, Rivera was asked to make the stroll from the bullpen to the mound. Instead of being introduced by the on-field announcers, a recording of the late great Bob Sheppard introducing Rivera was played on the sound system. To hear Sheppard announce Rivera one last time was a sentimental touch

Rivera has jogged from the bullpen to the mound hundreds of times, but on this sun-soaked day, he took his time, walking slowly through centerfield. As the case has been on the majority of those now memorable walks to the mound, heavy metal has filled the air at Yankee Stadium. For so many Yankees fans, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” has been the soundtrack to victory. It has meant that the great Rivera would soon be putting the opponent to bed.

On this day, no one was falling asleep because the band performed the song live on a stage in centerfield. I’m not sure when Rivera picked up on the surprise appearance by the band, but his ear-to-ear smile never went away.

When Rivera got to infield, he received a three-minute standing ovation, and then he greeted his wife, his three children, the Robinson family and his former teammates and manager with warm embraces.

Rivera was then presented with several special gifts including a speaker that was given to him by the four members of Metallica. The Yankees handed Rivera a check for $100,000 — for his foundation — and a Waterford crystal mitt, which is an exact replica of the glove the closer wears.

At the end of the ceremony, Rivera authored a few more emotional moments. He thanked his wife for years of support, and he paid tribute to his parents and his children. And, a few minutes later, Rivera turned toward Rachel Robinson and spoke about the late Jackie Robinson.

“I never got to meet Mr. Jackie Robinson, and I wish he was here today,” Rivera said. “It has been a great pleasure and honor to wear his number. He has been my hero and my inspiration.”

While all of Rivera’s speech evoked emotions, there was one part that stood out to me above the rest. When Rivera addressed today’s opponent, the San Francisco Giants, he thanked them for the opportunity to take the mound against them.

“Thank you for allowing me to compete against you,” Rivera said. “I appreciate that.”

Those very words epitomize who Rivera is. He is the most humble superstar in history. I can only imagine that he was humble when he was growing up in Panama, and that beautiful characteristic has never changed. Not even a little bit.

Now that the pomp-and-circumstance is done, a very special game will be played. It will mark the final game Andy Pettitte will ever throw in pinstripes.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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