Mariano Rivera an inspiration for Nick Saban

01/07/2013 11:09 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Mariano Rivera signed a one-year, $10 million contract to remain with the Yankees in 2013.(AP)
New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was a source of inspiration from Alabama college football head coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide is in Miami for Monday night’s BCS Championship Game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Saban showed a video of Rivera in which he discussed the times he struggled because he was trying to be a perfectionist. Saban’s message to his team, seeking to repeat as National Champions, was the importance of focus and the mental side of the game.

“When he's in the bullpen, he sees the crowd, he hears the crowd, he knows sometimes that he's been getting a lot of positive self gratification for what he does and sometimes getting a lot of negative self gratification for what he does," Saban said. "But when he runs out and they hand him the ball, he's got one focus; he's not worried about the crowd, he's not worried about any of the external factors. One focus: Three outs; how am I going to get three outs?

"I think a team's ability to do that, to stay focused on the things that are going to affect the outcome of the game, are critical in games like this. And you know, you could say, 'Well, that's nothing;' well believe me, being around young people, being in games like this, that's something and it's something big."

As always, Rivera, baseball’s all-time saves leader, is focused on the next big thing, a comeback from reconstructive knee surgery that repaired a torn ACL he suffered on May 3, 2012 while taking fly balls during batting practice. On Saturday, Rivera gave a pitching clinic for 150 children, including many who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, at Frozen Ropes Training Center in Danbury, Conn. He told reporters that the condition of his knee is at 95 percent and anticipates being at 100 percent by the end of Spring Training.

“I need to do more strengthening,” said Rivera, who will begin throwing in approximately one week, earlier than his normal winter routine. “The hope is the 5 percent comes quick.”

Rivera, of course, will return to his role as Yankees closer, though there will be questions surrounding him coming off a serious injury that limited him to nine appearances last season. The Yanks were fortunate to have a backup in Rafael Soriano, who saved 42 games in 46 chances while posting a 2.26 ERA. Although Soriano remains a free agent, he is not expected to return to the Bronx as a setup man. On paper that leaves David Robertson to return to the eighth-inning role as part of a deep bullpen that includes Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma healthy for an entire season.

The underbelly of the Yankees’ pen has left-handers Boone Logan and Clay Rapada, though Caesar Cabral could complete with Rapada for the lefty specialist position. David Phelps or Ivan Nova will likely fill the long relief role and the Yankees will also keep a close eye on youngster Mark Montgomery. During a conversation with the YES Network’s Jack Curry, Vice President and Director of Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer described Montgomery’s slider “really sick.” Montgomery is 7-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 30 saves in 72 Minor League games covering two seasons in Staten Island, Charleston, Tampa and Double-A Trenton, including 3-1, 1.88 in 15 games with the Thunder.

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