ARLINGTON, Texas -- The greatest closer in baseball history brought his farewell tour to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this week. And once again Mariano Rivera arranged to meet quietly with ordinary fans and stadium workers, as he has done in every city the New York Yankees have visited this season.
“What I’m getting from these tours is being able to say thank you," Rivera said Tuesday. "To people that work in the stadium, thanks. And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make sure that I said thank you for all those people behind the scenes that I can touch and be able to spend a little time with them."
Before Tuesday's game with the Rangers -- which ended, predictably, with Rivera getting the last out for his 32nd save of the season and 640th of his career -- Rivera visited with the grounds crew, had Manager Joe Girardi take a picture of him with a man who has Down syndrome, and met with more than a dozen ballpark employees from a number of departments, taking questions in English and Spanish, posing for photos and giving each worker an autographed baseball.
Like any good pitcher Rivera has varied his delivery from city to city. In Tampa, he visited with veterans and active-duty soldiers at a hospital. In Kansas City he met with a family dealing with a tragic accident that injured the mother and two children while killing a third child. And in Oakland he brought a pizza to a woman who has worked in the Athletics' mail room for a quarter century.
He will perform the same ritual when the Yankees visit Dodger Stadium next week.
“Definitely it has been more than what I thought. Instead of them learning from me, I’m learning from them," said Rivera, 43, who is retiring at the end of the season. "Again, it’s a blessing. I thank God for that.”
Most teams have returned the favor, marking Rivera's record-setting career by presenting him with gifts at each spot.
When the Yankees visited Citi Field in May, the Mets let him throw out the first pitch. (He also threw the last pitch that night, blowing a save when he gave up a game-winning single to Lucas Duda in the ninth.)
In Oakland, the Athletics gave him a yellow and green surfboard, a local wine with his uniform number and a special design engraved in it and a check for $10,042 for his charitable foundation -- the final 42 another nod to his number, which no major leaguer will wear again. Baseball retired the No. 42 in 1997 in honor of Jackie Robinson but allowed players wearing the number at the time to keep it for the rest of their careers. Rivera is the final active player from that class.
But while Rivera declined to pick a favorite parting gift, he spoke fondly of the rocking chair he received in Minnesota. Rivera has been known to break a bat or two with his biting cutter so the Twins presented him with a chair made partly from broken bats. On the head rest is a plaque that reads "Chair of Broken Dreams."
“They all are great things. Organizations put those things together so I appreciate that," Rivera said. "[But] the funniest, I think for me, is the chair. But they’ve all been wonderful.”