(A meditation on Mariano Rivera, Cooperstown and a tenuous link with Bruce Springsteen)
It’s June of 2011 and we’re sitting in a diner in Cooperstown, New York, waiting for our orders to be served when “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by Bruce Springsteen begins to play on the jukebox. Now this is a song I’ve listened to a thousand times but this afternoon, it seems so right and seems to capture exactly the spirit of our trip across New York State.
Two days before, we’d been at Yankee stadium watching the Bronx bombers. We’d been at the Stadium so many times that month that the staff that were around our seats got to know us a little and there was such a friendly vibe. I still prefer the old Stadium but, hey, you can’t have everything. Anyway, the game comes around to the ninth innings and it is a close one and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica rings out from the PA and Mariano Rivera begins that familiar run out from the bullpen and a dozen pitches later it is all over. He really is a sublime talent. Since 1994, I’ve seen them all at the Stadium. The greats and those who would only be around for two or three games. That night as the game comes to an end and Frank Sinatra’s voice rings out, I begin to subconsciously compare Mariano with all the other greats I have seen over those twenty years – Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Wade Boggs, Robinson Cano, David Cone, Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte. Too many to name. And I realise that not only is Mo ahead of anyone else on that list – he is far ahead.
Two days later, we’re back at Yankee Stadium and the same pattern replays. Not only is Rivera brilliant, he is a model of consistency and I’ve been watching him do this all the way back to 1995.
Two years later and it’s 2013. I’ve been ill for most of the year and that illness and some other stuff has prevented me from flying from my London home to New York to see Mariano’s final game for the Yankees. He’d announced his retirement at the beginning of the season and for the next six months played peerless baseball as he was garlanded and celebrated at every stadium he visited. If he is not the first player to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on a 100% vote when he is first eligible in 5 years’ time then there is no justice and the sport will have become a little poorer. Maybe on the day he is inaugurated he will stop off in that same little diner where Isobel and I ate. It’s a nice thought.
Anyway, last night, Isobel was beating me at Scrabble as is her way when “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” came on the hi-fi. That and the whole of “The Wild, The Innocent and The E-street Shuffle” album got me thinking about Mariano Rivera once again. I could blame my Scrabble defeat on my distraction but that’s not true. Really nobody else associates that album with Mariano but I guess now I always will. My health is back to normal now but I missed my last chance to see Rivera play and to see the Sandman enter one more time. It’s just that we were in Cooperstown (who’d have guessed) and walked into diner when Springsteen was set to play and now for the rest of my life I’m going to feel a little more sentimental every time I hear that album.