The number 42 is the meaning of life if you asked anyone in the UK what that number meant to them. In the United States of America the number 42 is synonymous with just two men and one of them is about to call a day to his ring-laden career.
I am getting to that age where some of my heroes that I have followed for my whole life watching a sport have called it a day. Heck very few of them are still around. You get new heroes and new loyalties but they’ll always be a select few who you’ll love and admire. That list for me is never slender and includes Alan Ball – a Pompey hero, Ayrton Senna – a Formula driver who no fear and immense skill, Jorge Posada – a New York Yankees catcher who showed that heart and hard work can overcome a lack of natural talent, Kurt Warner – a man who showed that even when things look bleak showed that you can still achieve your dreams and Joe Paterno. Yes whatever has happened hasn’t changed my opinion on him.
So we get to today and another one of the guys that I openly rooted for has called a News Conference for Saturday morning (10 EST) to announce that he is calling it a day. He’ll play out the season but that will be it. It is not a surprise in any way, shape or form – he is 43 years of age and he would have retired last year had it not been for a freak injury but it will signal the end of an era.
Sport is so often about opinion and emotion. Is Messi better or Ronaldo? Is Pele the greatest ever or was Maradona? Was Senna better than Schumacher? I could go on but there are so many questions and so much debate. One question though results in the same answer from an overwhelming majority of people who follows the sport of baseball – ‘Who is the greatest closer of all time?’ and the name that’ll come from their lips will be that of Mariano Rivera.
The kid who learned how to pitch using a milk carton as a glove in a sleepy fishing village in Panama came from very humble backgrounds to become the greatest at his position a sport had ever seen. When you earn the nickname ‘Hammer of God’ you must be doing something right and Mo certainly did something right. It wasn’t his greatness though that made me root so hard for him. He played the game with a smile on his face and the amount of times I ever saw him openly emotional count be counted on one hand. He knew that you can’t win them all and that at times you be suffer painful defeat but he took it all in his stride.
There was a strange sense of serenity watching him jog out to enter a game. ‘Mo will save us’ was the thought that every Yankee fan felt whilst the opposition fans – and players – used to think ‘oh (expletive)’. He pitched with just one main pitch – the cut fastball. Every opposition player knew what was coming and yet they still couldn’t hit it. It was one of the strangest things in sport – if you know what is coming next then you can adjust to it but with Mo you couldn’t. Life after Mariano will be interesting for any Yankees fan who has been privileged to watch him play.
However there is another part of history that needs to be said. When Mariano leaves the field of play for the last time at some point in 2013 the #42 will walk off the field for the last time outside of Jackie Robinson Day. In 1997 MLB retired the #42 to pay homage to Jackie Robinson who broke the colour barrier in 1947, which might just be the most significant moment in north American sport. Due to the Grandfather clause anyone who wore the #42 could continue to wear it until they retired. It is fitting that the last person to ever wear it will be a man who wasn’t just great but also a wonderful person and ambassador for the sport.
I will ensure I enjoy every moment of 2013 where Mariano is on my TV screen. It genuinely was a privilege to watch greatness and I’ll miss it like anything when he’s gone. I’m sure others will get a place in my heart in time but it has been many years since someone new got into my inner-love sports wise but I’m sure others will. For now though I’ll smile when I see #42 and enjoy what he has given me – smiles on my face and the sense that you can be great and yet be humble and all class – and that sums up the kid from a small fishing village in Panama rather well.
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