Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to collect Mariano Rivera from the Yankees’ Stadium mound on Sunday and an entire generation of Yankees’ fans watched their childhood walk off the field. Suffice it to say, based on Rivera’s farewell tour, all of Major League Baseball has an extraordinary appreciation for a player who generally appears in one inning per game every few days.
It’s also safe to say Rivera’s farewell to the Yankees’ faithful was an even more intimate moment for the home team than even the fans themselves. In a few days, Rivera and Andy Pettitte will walk off into the sunset and presumably never look back and the Yankees will be left with Derek Jeter from its “Core Four” and an aging and injury prone one at that.
So for a lot of reasons tonight was the end of an era, regardless of when and at what position Rivera appears in Houston. There will be no more Enter Sandman and no more pitchers left from a time when the Yankees were a Dynasty and payroll concerns were replaced with an incomparable farm system.
Everyone watching knew it, every fan felt it and Rivera displayed it when he burst into tears while embracing Pettitte with a hug.
It was their moment as teammates, friends and veterans more than anybody else’s. It was our moment watching too, and most of us felt inclined to cry alongside our sports role models. It was a sports connection at its strongest and most intimate, despite millions watching on TV and thousands reacting at the same time in the stadium itself.
You didn’t need to be a Yankees’ fan to visibly realize the amount of feelings on that mound on Sunday night, a meaningless 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
And for a Yankees’ fan of the past 20 years, it was the harsh realization the security blankets of the past will be no more. The comfort of a clutch Pettitte start and knowing the game was over when Metallica started playing, is gone. The emotional moment on Sunday wasn’t just because of one player and his value to the game, the team and the sport, it was a seismic shift in how the nucleus of the team will be viewed forever more.
There will never be another Mariano Rivera from a professional, personal, emotional or statistical standpoint. He deserves all of the recognition he has received whether his position and place in the game dictates it or not.
After Sunday, Yankees’ fans will have to start thinking about the offseason because its team’s year was cut short for just the second time since 1994. It will feel slightly empty and disappointing.
But it will not compare to Opening Day when the Greatest of All Time is no longer on the roster and his presence and memories no longer vivid and current.
Enter Sandman, indeed.