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Mariano Rivera has spent his entire career with the New York Yankees. (DOMINICK REUTER/REUTERS)
Mariano Rivera has spent his entire career with the New York Yankees. (DOMINICK REUTER/REUTERS)

Joe Lapointe

Mariano Rivera: The closer and the most loved man in baseball Add to ...

Romine added: “It’s really mind-boggling. You watch it cutting and guys are looking foolish, professional hitters.” He got Rivera to autograph a baseball, which he sent to his mother in California. “My mom is his hugest fan.”

Asked whether Rivera could pitch next year for a round figure of 20 years, Romine said: “I’d like to think he could do it forever.”

(Rivera said the number of seasons is not important to him).

When asked why more pitchers can’t duplicate Rivera’s cutter, Dickey said: “So many people have tried. To be able to make the ball spin the way that he can is a gift.” Dickey said he has tried it in workouts and succeeded about 10 per cent of the time.

“That’s why I throw a knuckleball. His cutter is something innate. He’s got the perfect hand size, the perfect arm length, the perfect measurement from his elbow to his wrist. So many things are God-given.”

For a man so relatively open to strangers and co-workers, Rivera’s locker space in Yankee Stadium provides privacy and protection. He sits next to an abutment in a long wall that guards his right flank.

In front of his locker, a large, aluminum column hides him from those who would approach. In between, the passage is narrowed by six large boxes of fan mail, a trash can and two laundry hampers.

Rivera sometimes strolls away from group questioning after games and bolted recently when asked about the Rodriguez controversy. Sometimes, he’s most receptive after his few failures.

When Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera hit a remarkable home run off him with a line drive to centre field earlier this month, television cameras caught Rivera’s eyes following the ball over the fence and mouthing the word, “Wow.”

And why not, according to Rivera, who might have smiled as the ball landed. “The game is hard enough not to enjoy it,” he said, “and it’s not only when good times happen.”

Ichiro Suzuki, now a teammate, recalled beating Rivera in 2009 with a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Seattle. In 22 years of baseball, Suzuki said it is one of his fondest memories.

“I’ve only hit one home run off him,” he said, through an interpreter. “It’s one that I remember.”

Another hit off Rivera, a bloop single to left field by Luis Gonzalez, scored the winning run in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series that gave the Arizona Diamondbacks the championship, after it looked as though the Yankees were about to clinch it.

Rivera told New York Magazine recently it was God’s will.

“I did my best,” he said. “Guess what? Didn’t happen. And you think I’m going to start like a child, ‘Oh, oh, oh,’ I be crying? No, I did my best.”

With an opponents’ batting average of .212 against him, some major-leaguers treasure the smallest successes.

DeRosa said: “I remember being in Texas and getting a hit off him. I remember running to first. You have moments in your big-league career that are very special and to get a knock off Mariano Rivera is a special thing.”

And so is this tour. Everywhere he goes, Rivera gets tributes and gifts from the other teams. In Cleveland, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rivera got a framed gold record of Enter Sandman by Metallica, his personal walk-in music. He also banged a drum with fan John Adams, who has hit it in the Cleveland bleachers since 1973 in support of the Indians.

Because Rivera breaks so many bats, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire commissioned a custom-made rocking chair created by pieces of broken bats. Because Rivera was a fisherman’s son in Panama, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave him fishing gear, with part-owner Earvin (Magic) Johnson making the presentation.

The gifts, and the conversations in private with people in each city, have made his final tour a feedback loop of affection and admiration.

Little of it has involved religion, but Rivera carries with him a well-worn Bible. His hero in Scripture is King David. On his glove is stitched “Phil. 4:13,” for the Bible verse in the book of Philippians.

At the end of a short interview – Rivera has only so much time for one-on-ones these days – he was asked to sum up in one sentence how baseball and spirituality have entwined for him this season.

Ever the efficient worker, Rivera summed it up in one word: “Love.”

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