New York Yankees 2013 Preview: Mariano Rivera's Final Season

03/28/2013 12:12 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

In just a few short months, Mariano Rivera will be walking off into the sunset for good. (AP)
As part of a four-part season preview series, the team caught up with many of the YES Network broadcasters during Spring Training to discuss 2013. In parts one and two, Ken Singleton and John Flaherty looked to the future, discussing the organization’s depth in the outfield and behind the plate – but in part three, we sat down with Michael Kay, Paul O’Neill, and Jack Curry to take a last look at one man who won’t see that future in pinstripes: the soon-to-retire Mariano Rivera.

With all the flux surrounding the 2013 Yankees, there is one thing that’s for sure: when the season’s final out is recorded, Mariano Rivera’s illustrious (and surely Hall of Fame) career will be over.

In an interview with Meredith Marakovits, Rivera said of his decision to announce his retirement that “now is the time,” and after discussing it with his family, he is at peace with the decision. Rivera also said of his announcement that “it was a relief,” and if anyone can identify with that thought, it’s ex-teammate turned YES analyst Paul O’Neill; “The Warrior” retired after the 2001 season, and admitted that although he didn’t tell anyone until the very end of the year, it was a tough decision he kept to himself all summer.

“I knew (I was retiring) in my mind, but I didn’t tell anyone until the playoffs; it wasn’t a thing that I thought about during the season, because I knew it but I didn’t want to talk about it,” O’Neill said.

Not much more needs to be said about the Rivera’s Hall of Fame career that will see him leave the game as MLB’s all-time saves leader, but there is a lot to be said for what may be going through Rivera’s head as the next six months progress; because of his success, it’s very possible that 2013 for him is a lot like 2012 for Chipper Jones, with every city honoring him as he comes to town for the last time.

“Mariano’s such a class guy that it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the whole league, and baseball fans in general, say goodbye to him,” O’Neill said. “For him, knowing this is his last year, you have to enjoy it.”

Any theatrics aside, though, O’Neill cautions that Rivera won’t let the circumstance bother him, at least not until the very end.

“When you play 162 games as a player, you don’t necessarily think about it being the last one every single time out there,” O’Neill said. “There will be times I’m sure, say when he visits a ballpark for the last time, where it does cross his mind, but it will creep in more towards the end of the season.”

The Sandman himself said he doesn’t know how he’ll react if and when he is honored, saying he only hopes 2013 “is great,” but Jack Curry – who has covered Rivera’s whole career from both sides of the Yankees’ fence, as both an “outsider” working for the New York Times and as a YES Network insider – wouldn’t be shocked if Mariano is ready for every night to be Rivera Appreciation Night.

“I think Rivera will be prepared to be celebrated as the Yankees journey from city to city…and I don't think it will bother him. Rivera is as focused as any player I've ever covered,” Curry said. “Having to answer a few questions before a game or having to accept a gift on the field before a game won't impact him when he needs to get three outs in the 9th. He'll be the same focused pitcher.”

“I think it will be emotional at times, because it’s hard to give up baseball, and I think fans throughout baseball all over the country will show him love,” added Michael Kay. “The guy has been nothing but class his whole career, he treats people the right way, and that in turn means people will treat him the right way. I think that every time it’s the last time he’ll be in a city, it will be an absolute love fest.”

Final season or not, though, there is one thing that fans will watch in regards to Rivera’s performance, that being how he rebounds from the torn ACL that cost him most of 2012. The Yankees closer has been a rock for the last 15 years, but he himself said it was a hard recovery and credited his “will and desire and love for the game” as his impetus to come back for one more year.

Still, at 43 years old and coming off a major injury, there can’t help but be doubt that another season of “Mo being Mo” isn’t a lock; according to Kay and Curry, however, there shouldn’t be.

“I think Rivera will be as good in 2013 as he was in 2011 or as it looked like he would be in 2012; he’s looked sharp in Spring Training, and was clearly taking things at his own pace as he always does,” Curry said. “I expect that he will be one of those rare players who leaves his sport while he's still in top – and, even if he’s only 85 or 90 percent of what he was in 2011, the Yankees would still want him because that means he'll still be better than most closers.”

Added Kay: “I think for him it’s going to be a usual Rivera season where he pitches well; he does happen to be the best relief pitcher of all-time, after all.”

And as for what happens once October comes and goes, and Rivera throws his final pitch? Rivera himself said it’s hard to believe he’s been around for nearly two decades, but that “the time comes for everyone” and he is ready – but Kay, for one, believes there won’t be a dry eye in the house the last time Rivera puts on pinstripes.

“I think for the first five months it will be business as usual, but it’s going to be emotional for him as he gets to the end…and to be honest, when it ends, I’m probably going to get emotional, too,” Kay admitted. “I’ve been with Rivera the whole time he’s been a Yankee. I’ve seen him grow up, and he’s seen me grow up, and he’s a really exemplary person; if you have a son, you’d want him to be Mariano Rivera.”

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