It is a beautiful fall day in the Bronx, New York, nearly seventy degrees and sunny. We are hosting the San Francisco Giants, who have already been eliminated from the playoffs, while we are fighting for our post‐season lives, three games behind the leader for the wild‐card spot, with three teams ahead of us.
It is September 22, 2013.
It is also, unbelievably, “Mariano Rivera Day.”
I have played nineteen years for the New York Yankees, but this season is my last. It is a bittersweet reality.
The Yankees have planned some sort of celebration of my career but have kept me in the dark about the details. My wife, Clara, and my three sons will be there, but that is all I know. I suit up early for the pregame festivities, and then I wait in one of the tunnels behind the outfield for my cue to enter the stadium.
One of the things I am known for is my calm demeanor. My cool exterior is not an act. I have never been prone to get nervous in a tight spot.
I am nervous right now.
On a piece of paper, I have written some inadequate words of thanks—to my parents, to my family, to my teammates, to the Yankee staff, most of all, to the fans. I slip the paper into my back pocket. I don’t want words to fail me in this moment.
Finally, they tell me, “You’re on, Mo.”
There is a crowd in Monument Park, the museum behind the centerfield face where the Yankees display the retired numbers of their finest players, and the number 42, which was worn by Jackie Robinson, the first African American man to play Major League Baseball.
Because of his extraordinary contributions, baseball retired Robinson’s number in 1997. But at the time, there were thirteen major league players still wearing 42, including me. We were allowed to keep the number until our careers ended.
I am the last active player still wearing No. 42.
I have cherished being able to honor Mr. Robinson in this way.
Now, on Mariano Rivera Day, Mr. Robinson’s 42, painted in the vivid blue of the team he played for—the Dodgers—has been replaced with a bronze plaque and given a prominent place of honor in Monument Park.
In the spot where his plaque had been hanging, at the end of a row of numbers the Yankees have already retired—Lou Gehrig’s No. 4, Babe Ruth’s No. 3, Joe DiMaggio’s No. 5—there is a new No. 42, this one painted in Yankee blue against a pin‐striped background.
This is my No. 42 that the Yankees are retiring on Mariano Rivera Day. Beneath it is a plaque that reads:
“Mo” is considered the greatest closer in baseball history. He spent his entire career in pinstripes, from 1995–2013 and became the franchise leader in games pitched. Thriving under pressure, he amassed the most saves in postseason history. A 13‐time All‐Star, he retired as baseball’s all‐time saves leader.
I feel like my heart is going to come out of my chest. “Wow,” I say out loud. I am so unbelievably humbled.
What am I doing here? I think to myself. How could this be happening to a skinny boy from a poor fishing village on the southern coast of Panama, a boy who didn’t even have a glove when he tried out for the Yankees?
My amazement continues.
In the outfield, the heavy metal band Metallica is performing their song “Enter Sandman.” It is the entrance music the Yankees play every time I come in to close a game. I pump my fist at the band. I am not a heavy metal music fan, but the band and I will be forever connected by this song.
I make the walk through the outfield to the mound, where there are more people who want to say goodbye, more tributes.
These formal goodbyes have been going on all season—The Mariano Rivera Farewell Tour. Some teams, like the Minnesota Twins, who I always pitched well against, are no doubt very happy to see me go. The Los Angeles Dodgers give me a fishing pole. The Texas Rangers give me a cowboy hat and boots. The Yankees have a special gift, too—it is a rocking chair.
Finally, they hand me a microphone. What can I say that will express to this crowd of 50,000 people what they, what my career, what being a New York Yankee, has meant to me? I completely forget about the note in my back pocket, but I remember to thank my family, my teammates, the fans, most of all. Words do start to fail me, so I say the two words dearest to the heart of any baseball player, or any baseball fan: “Play ball!”
Derek Jeter, who has been my teammate for two decades, since way back in Double‐A ball in Greensboro, North Carolina, gives me a hug and a pat on the back. “You kept it together pretty good,” he says. “I thought you were going to cry.”
I didn’t cry.
The tears would come, eventually, but they would not be tears of sadness. They would be tears of joy from a fisherman’s son whose dreams not only came true, but arrived bigger than he would ever have dared to imagine.
For the rest of the story, pick up the Young Readers Edition of The Closer, in bookstores now! And be sure to watch Kid Reporter Amiri Tulloch’s interview with the legendary Yankeee!