Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium was undoubtedly Mariano Rivera's moment – the gifts, the recorded tributes, the standing ovations – although it might have also been a day to remember and to wistfully say goodbye to a great New York Yankees era that slowly, and inevitably, is coming to an end.
Rivera was honoured by the Yankees for his 19 remarkable seasons with a 50-minute retirement ceremony that delayed the start of Sunday's game against the San Francisco Giants by nearly an hour. Hardly anyone seemed to care. Yankee Stadium, which for most of the season has failed to sell out consistently, was packed nearly 30 minutes before the 1:05 p.m. scheduled start time.
The ceremony began with Rivera in Monument Park as his plaque and number were added to the other 16 players and managers honoured with such a distinction. Since the No.42 uniform has already been retired by baseball in remembrance of Jackie Robinson, the Yankees switched the number from Dodger blue to Yankee navy. Rivera is the first active player to be honoured in Monument Park.
Rivera remained in the bullpen as the masters of ceremony, John Sterling and Michael Kay, introduced guests, who included several former teammates; the former manager Joe Torre; Rivera's wife and children; and Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg declared Sept. 22 as "Mariano Rivera Day."
After a tribute video, a recording of the longtime Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard introduced Rivera.
The most peculiar part of the ceremony was during the first chords of his entrance song, Enter Sandman, which the rock band Metallica performed live in centre field. The music played before the start of the game, when there was no lead to protect.
When the song began, Rivera walked toward the mound to a loud ovation.
Rivera stood on the mound for several moments as fans continued to cheer. After being presented with several gifts – a personalized guitar, a rocking chair, a crystal replica of his game glove, and a framed copy of his number in Monument Park – and after his current Yankee teammates came out from the dugout and stood in the infield, Rivera was given the microphone.
"The Lord has blessed me with a great family," Rivera said as he looked toward his teammates. "All these men have been part of my family. I love you guys, and you are all special to me and my family."
He then looked to the fans.
"It's been a great run, guys," Rivera said. "You guys have been amazing. You will always be part of my heart. You have taken me in like one of you guys, and I do appreciate that."
Rivera also spoke directly to Rachel Robinson.
"I would've loved to have met Mr. Jackie Robinson," Rivera said. "But it's a great pleasure and an honor to be the last MLB player to ever wear No.42. Even though I never met him, he has been a hero and inspiration for me. And I thank Mr. Jackie Robinson for that."
Hours later, Rivera got to once again close out the game – Andy Pettitte, who is also retiring at the end of this season, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his final regular-season start at Yankee Stadium, before the wheels fell off in the eighth – but this time there was no save. Just a Yankees' 2-1 loss.