Friday, May 4, 2012

Legends Never Die

"I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going out like this," - Mariano Rivera 

Before I heard the words above, I spent my day in stunned disbelief. I was nauseous. There was a perpetual pit in my stomach. It wasn't because someone in Peanut's class has lice and now I'd had that always-itchy feeling. It wasn't that I'm running a half-marathon in less than 48 hours. No. It was because I couldn't get the images of Mariano Rivera crumbling to the ground on the warning track in Kansas City last night out of my mind:

Image from here

Image from here
I know it's only sports. But one of the few reasons I watch anymore is a connection to my dad. When I watch baseball or football, I remember sitting in our family room rooting for the Yankees or Jets with him. That's probably why I take it more seriously than it deserves. Not because he did, but because it's still a way to keep him alive. I can watch a game sometimes and get lost in the memories of him without anyone else in the room even knowing I've gone somewhere else.

There are certain things about my dad that are permanently etched into my memory. Among them: His musk of sweat, coffee, and cigarettes. The sound of his slippers shuffling across the kitchen tile as I laid in bed at night. His shouting, "Gotta go to Mo!" and then loudly clapping his hands once every time Mariano Rivera entered a game for the Yankees. That last one was even more prominent in my mind today, as it appeared Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball, had suffered a career-ending injury while shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice yesterday.

Turns out, Rivera vows to pitch again at age 43. Turns out, heroes may grow older but legends never die. (That's from The Sandlot.) Rivera had hinted before this season that it would be his last. So it was easy for me to lament what I thought was an unceremonious end for a once-in-a-lifetime player. And as a Yankees fan who shared that bond with his dad, it broke my heart.

Make no mistake, my dad was a sports fan. He watched every game in any sport possible. But I never really saw him get excited. He was always a cynic, questioning whether sports were headed in the wrong direction because of ticket prices, salaries, and egos. So when he liked an athlete, I mean genuinely rooted for and admired a guy, it meant something.

He rooted for and admired Rivera. I remember choosing to watch most of the 1998 World Series with him in our family room instead of out with friends. (Before that, the only Yankees championship I remember was in 1996 and I was in college at the time.) The eighth inning would end and he'd shout, "Gotta go to Mo!" To this day, I say that myself every time Rivera comes into a game. A lot of people do, I know. But I say it because of my dad. I never really heard him talk glowingly about an athlete the way he talked about Mariano Rivera. (Except for Mickey Mantle, of course.)

Image from here

I do and say so much because of my dad. He continues to be my dad, my parent, more than nine years after his death. And every time a piece of our history fades away I feel a piece of him fades away with it: the destruction of the real Yankee Stadium and of the old Giants Stadium, the passing of players he enjoyed, the inevitable moves out of homes he once knew and into ones he never will. I lose a little piece of him every time.

Seeing a hero I shared with my dad crumble and possibly fade away made me sad. But knowing Rivera will be back, and knowing him I assume he'll be back at full strength, makes me very happy. It keeps that bond, that memory, alive. I've never taken for granted that I am witnessing greatness every time I watch Rivera take the mound, whether on television or in person. That I am blessed to be alive to see someone who is the very best ever at what they do. The same greatness my dad recognized and admired. Now I get to see it for one more season.

Legends never die. Not that easily, at least. Ya gotta go to Mo.

Speaking of legends, if you want to read the post about my dad's admiration of Mickey Mantle, click here


  1. I totally get it. I feel the same way about things that bring my dad back to me. I'm not a Yankee fan but I am an admirer. I hope he does come back. For you and your dad's memory.

    1. Thanks, man. Unfortunately, I know you get it. Sux.

  2. This was a great post, and very thought provoking.

  3. Great read. Hope Mo and your Dad reads this.





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