Exit Sandman

In the days and weeks leading up to the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the narrative presented by sports media in Boston and around the country was that of a once great event, that has plummeted in TV ratings and is no longer something sports fans get excited about. They said making the outcome of the game determine home field advantage in the World Series ruined the game itself. They said baseball had fallen out of the national discussion and would never catch football or basketball again. They said kids these days don’t have the attention span for a sports without a time limit. In the eight inning on Tuesday night, the great Mariano Rivera reminded us why we used to love the Midsummer Classic.

Mo Rivera is a living legend. He is the greatest closer in the game has ever seen. He is a five time World Series champion who has played his entire major league career for the New York Yankees. He is the last player to wear the number 42, after MLB stopped issuing it in 1997 to honor Jackie Robinson. He is easily the best baseball player his homeland of Panama has ever produced.  As a lifelong Red Sox fan, he was always a player I was afraid to see come into the game because I knew what he was capable of–a very different kind of fear than what I get whenever the Red Sox’ closer of the day takes the mound. Mo is a model of consistency, and a true professional in every sense of the word. He, along with Derek Jeter, was always yearned  to see in a Red Sox uniform, and as America rolled on like an army of steamrollers, with Rivera marking the time (enough with the baseball cliches already!) he became impossible for even the most passionate Sox fan to hate. It seemed like he would pitch forever, which is why it was such a shock when he announced this spring that this season would be his last.

Credit needs to be given to American League (and Detroit Tigers) manager Jim Leyland for deciding ahead of time that Mo would pitch the eighth inning no matter what. With the National League being the home team, there was a chance that the game could end before the bottom of the ninth, and Rivera might not have gotten this last hurrah. In the bottom of the eighth, Mo’s entrance song “Enter Sandman” began playing and Rivera was the lone player to take the field. Players from both leagues stayed in the dugouts to give him a standing ovation. Yankees fans and Mets fans alike were on their feet to salute one of the all time greats and genuine class acts the National Pastime has ever seen. Though an international superstar and an icon in North America’s largest city, Rivera never let his fame get to him. He tipped his hat to the crowd, appreciating them as much as they appreciated him. He recorded a perfect inning and ended his All-Star career with an unforgettable moment. That’s baseball. That’s what it’s all about.

The reason we still have an All-Star Game is for moments like this. With cable TV and the Internet, you could watch and follow any team from anywhere in the country if you wanted to, so it’s no longer the once chance to see the stars from the other league. It is, however, a chance for legends to be appreciated with the whole world watching. My favorite All-Star moments as a kid were when Ted Williams threw out the first pitch at Fenway in 1999, when Pedro Martinez struck out five of the six juiced up batters he faced that same year, and when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run in his All-Star swan song in 2001. Rivera’s final All-Star Game ranks right up there. The game also does a great job of showcasing the next generation of superstars. Rivera, Jeter, and David Ortiz will not be around forever, but there is a lot for baseball fans to be excited about with guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado taking their places.

Thanks for the memories, Mo. The game is losing a true great, and I’m sad to see you go. Then again, I never tried to hit your cutter, so I’m sure most of the hitters in the American League don’t feel the way I do.

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