From Captains to neophytes, Mariano Rivera's legacy rings true throughout Yankees lore
Derek Jeter has been playing with Mariano Rivera for 19 years, and Andy Pettitte has been in pinstripes for most of that time -- so if you were to ask them about Mariano Rivera, you'd likely get enough compliments to write a novel and the criticisms you did get would make a Post-It note look cavernous.
But, as often is with a man, the true measure of just how great Rivera is comes from asking those in the periphery, those who may have watched from afar or from the other side but have had only a small window of opportunity to be on "Team Mo."
One current Yankee who fits that bill is reliever Matt Daley, who grew up as a Mets fan in Garden City, N.Y., but was not shy about admitting that he's always had nothing but respect for Rivera.
"It's an absolute thrill for me personally to play with him. I was 13 years old when he got to the Major Leagues, so I've seen him his entire career," Daley said Sunday. "I was a Mets fan but my dad and brother are Yankees fans and I saw many Yankee games, so I can definitely appreciate his entire career."
Daley himself has had a career that started almost a decade ago and has seen him make 96 appearances over parts of four MLB seasons, so he knows a thing or two about routine. However, he said he realized he really knew little about that until he got a chance to sit at the side of "The Sandman."
"What I've learned most from him comes from just the way he goes about things. Seeing him in here, he always gets his work done and treats people with respect, and that's what I try to take from him," Daley said. "I try to have a set routine that I do every day, and whether it's Brian Cashman or a security guard, part of it is treating people the exact same way -- with respect."
Daley's allegiance laid in Queens as a kid, but Dellin Betances' was strictly in the Bronx. Born in Washington Heights, Betances idolized Rivera as a youngster and saw Mo enter the game many times from the bleachers, so to be part of Mariano's big day was an almost inexplicable thrill.
"Today was a special moment. I grew up watching him, and being able to play with him has been awesome," Betances said. "The pregame ceremony…it was one of my best days in baseball. It's an honor just to be around him."
And, like Daley, Betances said the biggest thing that he's noticed in a pair of Septembers with The Sandman comes from Rivera the man, and not just Rivera the baseball player.
"Just the way he handles himself on and off the field. He's a class guy, and he's the same way whether things are good or bad. He's one of a kind…the best ever," Betances said.
And as for those who may have known Mo way back when but have been gone awhile, well, perhaps no one can sum it up better than Jim Leyritz, who, as part of his personal services contract with the team, watched Sunday's ceremonies with fans in the suite level at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees' nominal backup catcher when Rivera debuted in 1995, Leyritz ended up becoming an unlikely playoff hero, belting a walk-off homer in the 15th inning of Game 2 of that year's ALDS that made Rivera's first postseason decision a victory.
Leyritz played with Rivera in 1995 and 1996, played against him in the 1998 World Series and then returned for two more seasons with the Yankees before retiring in 2000. But more than a decade after he last spent significant time with "The Sandman," Leyritz said nothing at all has changed from the fresh-faced 25-year-old who debuted in the Buck Showalter era.
"I look at him as a great example. If you could write the blueprint of doing everything in life almost perfect, Mariano Rivera is what that blueprint would create," Leyritz said. "And when he's done, more people will see that inside a great player is an even greater man. In 19 years on the field, I don't think there's one guy he has ever tried to throw at, intimidate, or show up; you don't see that from Mo. Off it, he's always been even-keeled, he's always kept life in perspective and he's always realized that this is his job -- and while he does it well, there are other parts of life that are more important."
Perhaps, then, as Rivera gets ready to ride off into the sunset and perhaps spend some time in the rocking chair given to him by the Yankees on Sunday, the only other thing that needs to be said is the line that was uttered in a video tribute by Ichiro, who also has long been beloved and revered as one of the classiest players in the game:
"It's been an honor just to be able to play with him over the last year."