WENZEL: A potentially sad end for a gentleman
The New York Yankees are just plain offensive to some people around these parts. I suppose good folks like Pete Jones, Joe Kramer, Terry Heisinger, Dean Minder, LaMoine Torgerson and a score of other local Yankees die-hards will consider dropping...
The New York Yankees are just plain offensive to some people around these parts. I suppose good folks like Pete Jones, Joe Kramer, Terry Heisinger, Dean Minder, LaMoine Torgerson and a score of other local Yankees die-hards will consider dropping their subscriptions over such a statement. I hope they don't, but it's true that the Yankees prompt strong feelings, one way or another.
I guess it's hard to explain. To each his own.
As for me, I can't stand the team. Yet when I heard that the great Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera shredded the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, it ruined my day.
Have you seen the video of the mishap? It's being replayed ad infinitum on the TV sports networks and can be found in a moment on the Internet. Rivera, during Thursday batting practice in Kansas City, jogged after a fly ball but fell to the turf when his knee buckled.
He was hauled from the field and sent to a hospital, where it was confirmed that he did indeed tear his ACL.
What an unfortunate and unceremonious end to a great career this may be. Rivera is baseball's all-time leader in saved games, with 608. He saved at least 25 games in 15 consecutive seasons and 11 times had a season earned-run average of less than 2.00.
Back when the Twins still played in the Metrodome, I was fortunate enough to have some pretty good seats next to the visitors' bullpen. Over the years, those seats gave us a good view of how major-league pitchers work, and also gave us an inside look at many pitchers' quirks and personality traits.
One afternoon, well before game time, Rivera was on the field, working out nearby.
Sensing that he would walk back to the bullpen to grab his jacket -- and realizing that my kids were elsewhere seeking batting-practice balls -- I quickly grabbed a ball and pen and waited for Rivera to come by. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame, for goodness sake, and those autographs don't come easily.
Instantly, dozens -- maybe more than 100 -- of other people did the same thing I did. It literally was a stampede.
Rivera wasn't daunted. He came back to the bullpen, gathered his things and began signing autographs for at least 20 minutes.
When it was my turn, my dislike for the Yankees momentarily disappeared. So did my gray hair and beer gut. I was 10 years old again, half expecting to see my dad over my shoulder egging me on.
Me: "Hello, Mr. Rivera. May I have your autograph?"
Mariano: "Yes. May I use your pen?"
Most major-leaguers scribble hurried, illegible lines and marks when they sign their John Hancock. Rivera's autograph looks like calligraphy. He is cordial and deliberate and takes his time when he signs. When he's finished, he looks at the recipient as if to say, "Anything else?"
Rivera moved down the line, but came to someone who didn't have a pen.
He stopped, returned to me, and asked, "May I use your pen again?"
I've followed Rivera since, as if we're some sort of old acquaintances from college. Through reading about him, I've learned he's heavily involved in charities and the Christian community. He sure seems like a good guy.
He's also 42 years old, about my age. That's not a bad age to be publisher of a newspaper, but it's really old for playing professional baseball. Rivera looked it Thursday, when his knee buckled as he simply jogged for that fly ball.
Imagine how difficult it must be for a 42-year-old to maintain the body, mind, soul and spirit for a 162-game season in the bigs.
Three years ago, it took spinal surgery to fix my deteriorating shoulder just so I could play catch with my kids. Last year, while hanging a planter on my deck, I wrenched my hip so hard I could hardly walk for two days. I once sneezed and threw out my back. (Funny as that sounds, I'm not kidding, and local chiropractor John Prunty can attest to that. I suspect he was suppressing a grin when he said something like, "Oh, it happens all the time.")
Meanwhile, a guy like Rivera is still able to successfully pitch in 50, maybe 60 games a year at the highest possible level.
I don't like the Yankees at all, but I make an exception for Mariano Rivera. If he never pitches again, it will be a sad end for this gentleman's great baseball career.