Mariano Rivera made his major league debut in Anaheim 19 seasons ago and it didn’t go well. The then-California Angels knocked him around for five runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Things got a lot better for Rivera when he moved to the bullpen, so much so that when he plays his final game at Angel Stadium on Sunday it will be among the last stops on his way to the Hall of Fame. But Rivera paused to pay tribute to others before Saturday’s game, meeting quietly with 18 fans and longtime stadium workers to acknowledge their contributions to the game.
“Frankly, I think it’s one of the coolest things that I’ve seen in my baseball career,” said Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, who attended the 45-minute meeting in a stadium conference room with his 16-year-old son. “He’s leaving a lot of people here with something special.”
Rivera is holding similar meetings with fans and ballpark workers at every stadium the Yankees visit this season, which he says will be his last despite the fact he is second in the American League with 23 saves — in 24 chances — and has a 1.48 earned-run average.
“Being here for me means a lot,” Rivera told the group, which included press box coordinator John Moynihan, who has worked for the Angels since their inception, and Alice Swift, a stadium janitor for the past 45 seasons. “I want to make sure I thank you for everything you do for baseball, for the game.”
Rivera, 43, posed for pictures and gave a signed baseball to each guest, receiving an autographed ball from a 7-year-old fan in return.
The most dominant closer in history with a record 631 career saves and a postseason ERA of 0.70 in 96 appearances, Rivera plans to keep giving back in retirement. His first project, he said, will be renovating a church in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he hopes to create a neighborhood learning center.
“The youth is our power for the next generation,” said Rivera, who has three sons. “And if no one takes care of them, we’re going to lose them. I want to do my part. That’s my new career.”
Pujols gains despite pains
Albert Pujols is showing signs of emerging from his season-long slump and Manager Mike Scioscia attributes some of that to Pujols learning how to deal with the painful plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
“There’s a lot of physical things he’s dealing with that he’s managing,” Scioscia said.
Pujols, who had a pair of run-scoring singles Saturday, is batting a season-best .314 in June, hitting safely in 10 of his last 12 games. That brought his season mark up to .260, the highest it has been since April 29.
“There’s no doubt that he made some adjustments from some of the physical things that he’s been dealing with,” Scioscia said of Pujols, who has 11 RBIs in his last dozen games. “But I think that he’s comfortable where he is.”
Former Angel Mark Teixeira left Saturday’s game in the bottom of the fourth with an aggravated right wrist. He is scheduled to see the Yankees’ team doctor Sunday in New York. Teixeira missed the first two months of the season with a partially torn tendon sheath in the same wrist.