Mariano Rivera may understand the the frustration New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is going through more than anyone right now. Afterall, besides being teammates for 18 years and sharing five World Series titles together, Rivera knows the fear of having an injury which could unwillingly force him out of the game in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career.
After learning that Jeter would be out until sometime after the All-Star break with a new fracture in his left ankle, Rivera, speaking from personal experience, had some unorthodox advice for his 39-year-old teammate.
"This time, he has to be selfish and think about himself," Rivera said. "For once, you have to think about yourself, think about what you have to do to get ready. Forget about what I can do for the team; you can’t do nothing for the team right now. What you can do for the team is make sure you’re 100% mentally and physically, then you’ll be ready to help the team."
Strange advice — for and from — two players who have always prided themselves on a team first attitude throughout their pinstriped lives.
Rivera speaks from personal experience. Almost immediately after he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee last May, Rivera vowed to return to the field. The images of the closer being wheeled off the Kauffman Stadium field on a golf cart became his inspiration. From that moment on, Rivera knew he would do whatever it took to come back for one final year.
"I didn't want to leave like that," he said at his spring training press conference announcing his retirement.
"As a player, I wanted to be here in September; if the doctor didn’t shut me down, I would have hurt myself because I wasn’t ready for that," Rivera said. "I like to help my team and be present. You can’t do that when you’re hurt."
Jeter was at the Yankees’ training complex in Tampa for 45 minutes Friday, and while he told reporters he planned to speak about his latest setback when the Yankees get back to New York next week, he was asked if he was disappointed that he would miss so much time.
“Of course,” Jeter said.
Jeter's attempts to get back on the field have been met with nagging setbacks and tentative dates until the bad news about the new fracture was discovered and stamped a more realistic mid-July timetable on his return.
Rivera thinks the images of the Yankees captain crumbled near second base and being helped off the field during Game 1 of the ALCS last October will be Jeter's own incentive to play again.
"Knowing him, that’s the last thing he wants people to remember," Rivera said. "It must be devastating for him. Knowing him the way I know him, he wishes to be here right now. . . . We have to make sure that it’s healed completely – 1,000% — to start doing it again. He will be OK. We have to be patient."