By Matt Goldberg aka Rivera42

How does one choose a favorite player? After all, the majority of us are fans of numerous sports and even a variety of teams. Scattered among these menagerie of teams are certain players that stand out, even transcending their chosen sport. Some might be flashy and outspoken, starring in numerous commercials and needing to be in the limelight. Shaq is the first athlete that comes to mind, and personifies this scenario. The man was one of the best players to ever step foot onto the hardwood and his personality matched his huge stature. He was a rapper (or at least attempted to be), starred in movies, had/has his own TV shows and who can forget “Kazaam”. I would consider Shaq to be on one end of the spectrum, while at the complete other end is a man known as “The Sandman”, number 42, Mariano Rivera.

As a kid born in the mid 80s, the Yankees were unwatchable. They were the modern day Mets. A complete failure of a franchise and their glory days of years past felt like another lifetime. Then things changed in 1995. Although the season didn’t end the way Yankees fans had hoped, they were finally going in the right direction. At that time I was only 10 or 11 and didn’t have a “favorite” baseball player. All of my friends had “favorite” players, and I really could not make up my mind who I wanted to anoint with this honor. Slowly Paul O’Neill became the player I idolized. This guy had everything, he was a fierce competitor, a true warrior who played the game with integrity and toughness that was unmatched. Around the same time I began noticing Mariano Rivera.

The Mariano to Wetteland connection was a joy to watch. Even in 1996 I knew Mo was special, he had an indescribable “it” factor that gave fans confidence that this guy would come in and get the job done. After John Wetteland left, Rivera took over the closer duties. He was so dominant the game really became 7 or 8 innings, other teams knew once Mo ran out from the bullpen it was over. As a fan, the final outs of a close game were always the most stressful. Even my mom, who was a casual baseball fan at best, knew that when number 42 was out there we could breathe a sigh of relief (no pun intended). We could rest assured that the Yankees would maintain the lead and win the game. Of course there were times when this was not the case, as in a certain playoff game against Cleveland and in 2001 against Arizona.

Statistics speak for themselves and nobody can deny that Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer to ever play the game. However, there is more to becoming a true icon in the sports world than just stats. There are countless players who were excellent, even legendary, but they never were revered and praised as much as Mariano. Of course I do not know him personally, I had the pleasure of meeting Mo once and he was terrific. Very mild mannered, friendly, and humble. Exactly the way I would have expected him to be. There seemed to be no differences between the gentleman we see take the mound and the man I had the honor of meeting off the field. Over the course of such a long and storied career there has not been one negative story about Mariano Rivera. No scandals, no failed HGH tests, just a clean record and playing the game the right way. In my opinion we have seen the perfect athlete, did his job better than anyone else, did it with quietly and with dignity.

We all know the saying “good things don’t last forever”, although I wish he could pitch forever it is not reality. As this is his last season Mariano is putting up amazing numbers and showing no signs of age. A legend should make his exit graceful, while still being able to show the world what made him great. Did we really need to see Willie Mays on the Mets or Patrick Ewing on the Sonics and Magic? There is nothing better and more rewarding than to see my favorite player, Mariano Rivera leave the game on his terms and as one of the last true gentleman in the sport. Personifying the number 42 on his back, just as the late Jackie Robinson had so many years prior, with 100% pure class. All Mariano fans can agree we are sad to see him go, but are glad he came.