You probably know him as the closer for the Yankees. The records he holds are impressive, such as most career saves – 652. But what about the man? Who is Mariano Rivera?
He's the son of a Panamanian fisherman who once thought he might be a good mechanic. But he loved baseball, playing on the beach with a ball made of wound up net and a glove shaped from cardboard. At eighteen he was invited to play with the Panama Oeste Vaqueros (Cowboys) in Panama's top league. He liked the outfield but when the team was in a jam, he was asked to pitch. He was twenty years old.
“Throw strikes and you'll be fine,” the manager says. Put in the second inning, he goes the distance and does not allow a run. He continued to help his dad, fixing nets, anticipating the mechanic's school, figuring he'll again be in the outfield in the next game.
A couple of guys from the team catch him on a Sunday. They've arranged a tryout for him with the New York Yankees. “They want to see you pitch.” Two bus rides and a half hour walk, a borrowed glove, his big toe poking out of his shoe, he throws nine fastballs (the only pitch he has). He's invited back the next day and the next. Then he is offered a contract.
Rivera takes us through his fascinating career, including his fear of flying and his learning English. His fast ball is only 86 or 87 mph but he can put the ball where he wants it. He moves up, sometimes starting, sometimes relieving. He marries his sweetheart and has elbow surgery. Then the call in May of 1995. He's going to New York.
What an amazing story. Rivera has talent but he also has great faith in the Lord. “Fame is fine,” he writes, “but it is not what I seek. What I seek is the light and the love of the Lord, for as He reminded me on that hot July night on the pitcher's mound in the Bronx, He is the one who has put me here.” (114) He shares how his faith is essential to his life and evidenced in his pitching. His faith carried him through the wins and losses. He writes of the seventh World Series game in 2001, “So really, there is nothing to fear, no result that isn't part of the plan, for we are in the arms of the Lord. That belief is what frees me to live, and pitch, in the moment.” (147)
After his baseball career, Rivera went from saving games to saving souls. He and his wife started an evangelical Christian church called Refugio de Esperanza, Refuge of Hope. He loves his new calling.
This is a great book for lovers of baseball. I felt like I was beside Rivera as he relived the pitches, the batters, the games. I was also inspired by his deep Christian faith. His memoir is a tribute to trusting God to be the best one can be.
Mariano Rivera was a New York Yankee for nineteen seasons. He is Major League baseball's all time saves and ERA leader, a thirteen time All-Star, and a five time world champion. Since his retirement from baseball, Rivera has dedicated himself to improving the lives of children and adults in his native Panama and his adopted home of New York. His foundation distributes more than $500,000 annually to children's aid organizations. He and his wife have three sons and live in New York.
Wayne Coffey is an acclaimed sport's journalist. He is a writer for the New York Daily News and the author of the bestseller The Boys of Winter. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and children.
Little, Brown and Company, 280 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book through The Barnabas Agency for the purpose of an independent and honest review.