He walked into applause and still left with yet an even more appreciative audience. Mariano Rivera is a Yankee, which makes him a natural enemy to anyone who cares about the Dodgers.
Yet there he was, meeting privately with approximately 20 longtime Dodgers employees before Wednesday’s game, expressing his gratitude for their being there, answering questions, posing for individual photographs and handing each a signed baseball.
“It’s a privilege and honor to be here,” he told the small group. “Thank you, I know you all have busy schedules.
“But it’s important to me to be able to say thank you. We always see all the people on the field, but not those behind the scenes. I just wanted to be able to say thank you for what you’ve done for baseball.”
Rivera, universally considered the greatest closer in baseball history, is retiring after this season. Yet, in addition to the usual gifts presented by opposing teams, Rivera has made a point at each final stop of a visiting stadium, to sit down with long-time team employees.
So Wednesday he met with approximately 20 members of the Dodgers organization – ushers, ticket takers, maintenance workers, front office workers, even a long-time season ticket holder – in a room under Dodger Stadium.
And gave them over 45 minutes of his time, most spent answering their questions about his five world championships, being the last to wear No. 42, playing for Joe Torre, his experience at the last All-Star game, how he handles defeat.
“I don’t see failure as something bad,” Rivera said. “I see it as a catalyst to something good. If I get beat, it’s because I was beat. I move on.
“It’s part of life. Do you want to feel sorry for yourself and stay down, or move forward and go on?”
Mark Langill, the Dodgers team historian, mentioned Rivera’s predecessor as the Yankees’ closer, ex-Dodger John Wetteland.
“We couldn’t believe that they let him go to give you the job,” Langill said.
Rivera did not miss a beat.
“I thought, ‘What are they doing?’ ” he said. “Thank God it worked out for both of us.”
Rivera has a record 641 saves. He’s now 43 years old and still pitching as if he’s in his prime (33 saves in 35 opportunities).
“I know you had the night off last night,” said one team employee. “Hopefully you’ll have another tonight.”
Most employees prefaced their questions with gratitude at Rivera taking the time to sit down with them.
“This is just so classy, I can’t put it into words,” said one.
Then came the photos and the baseballs and a lot of adults leaving looking like wide-eyed kids.