Mariano Rivera's farewell tour has been a non-stop ceremony of memorable gift-giving. The whimsical — a gold-record of "Enter Sandman" from the Indians — and the humorous — the Twins rocking chair made of broken bats — but, if you believe the soon to be retired closer, it was a presentation from the Texas Rangers and his "mentor" that might have touched Rivera's heart the most.
On Thursday, the Rangers gave Rivera a cowboy hat, a pair of cowboy boots inscribed with the Yankees logo and a check for his foundation, but it was one of the men making the presentation former Yankees closer John Wetteland who made it a special day for the retiring pitcher.
“It was wonderful,” Rivera said. “It was great to see him. Him being my mentor when he was there with us, to see him again, it was great. We chat a little bit, talk about all those old times, moments.”
Wetteland who delayed a fishing trip to attend Thursday’s ceremony served as the Yankees’ closer in 1995-96, leading the American League with 43 saves and winning World Series MVP honors during the Yankees’ 1996 championship season.
“I wasn’t going to miss today, period,” Wetteland said. “That’s not going to happen. Obviously I love Mariano to death and there’s a lot of history there; a lot of great moments, a lot of neat things shared.”
He remembers Rivera being “hittable” as a starter in 1995, but once the young pitcher joined the bullpen the following season, Wetteland knew something special was happening.
Not long after, Rivera developed his cut fastball — “The separator,” Wetteland called it. Wetteland told Rivera “not to get beat on your third-best pitch,” and that hasn’t been a problem since.
Asked how it felt to see Rivera blossom, Wetteland said, “Like what I set out to do, got done.”
“If you look back in retrospect, it becomes clear why we’re standing here so many years later,” Wetteland said. “I’ve never seen anybody pay such attention to detail when they’re young.
“He was even talking about it out there when we were kind of having a moment; he said that when he came in, there were already lots of ‘men’ in the bullpen and he felt like a little kid. I told him, ‘You never said a word, you just sat there. But you were always watching everybody.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I was taking in everything I could.’
“When you look back from where he started and the process of how Mariano Rivera not a scared kid, but a wide-eyed kid becomes arguably and far and away the greatest closer that ever lived, you can kind of see it now.”
While this summer of Yankees' injuries, struggles and the A-Rod scandal take its toll on fans, it's nice to know that Mariano Rivera is the gift that keep on giving.