2/28/2008 11:22:00 AM

Before He Was The Sandman

Posted by Mark McCray |

One of the greatest closers in Major League Baseball history was not always a multi-millionaire. He was not always the go-to guy in the ninth inning of a crucial World Series game. Before he became that man, he was just a poor kid who loved the game of baseball.

With all of the million dollar paychecks and scandals currently rocking Major League Baseball, I feel it is important for not only the players but also the fans to remember back to when they first fell in love with the game of baseball.

Here is what it was like for "The Sandman".

Mariano Rivera reached into his locker, lifted the lid off a shoe box and described how the cardboard would have made a perfect baseball glove for him as a skinny 7-year-old in Panama. Rivera sounded like a giddy kid as he spoke of tearing a hole in one narrow end of the cardboard and then poking his hand through to the other side for a homemade glove that would last for weeks. Well, maybe for a few days.

As Rivera discussed his first memories of baseball, he never stopped beaming and never stopped using his words, his hands, his eyes and his laugh to convince a visitor how special those warm days on the dusty streets of Puerto Caimito really were.

It did not matter that Rivera had to snatch rocks, tennis balls and taped-up balls in a flimsy cardboard glove. It did not matter that the bats were usually plastic. It did not matter that there were no grass fields and that the rhythm of games depended on the traffic flow on the streets. To listen and to watch Rivera, his introduction to baseball was pure nirvana.

"It makes me smile and it makes me happy to think about that," Rivera said. "It makes me feel good. I'll always have that inside me. I'll always remember seeing the kids playing back home. I still play with them. If I was there now, I'd be playing with them. They love me."

So innocent, so soft-spoken, so genuine. That is the Rivera who reads the Bible in the clubhouse, who sends boxes of equipment home to Panama so other children will have real gloves, who worked daily as a fisherman with his father, Captain Mariano, and who strangely insisted that he did not even consider becoming a professional player until after he signed a contract.

"You see most kids trying to be Nolan Ryan or Don Mattingly," Rivera said. "I never had that. I never thought about being a pro. I just got the ball, got my glove and enjoyed the game.


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Yankee Fan said...

Stories like those are great because they can be a great inspiration for aspiring players. I definetely think fans should read them too because they give a wider perspective on the sport, past the steroids and all of the bad press that baseball has received in recent years.

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