Mariano Rivera, arguably the greatest relief pitcher baseball has ever known, is just like any successful guy who might cross your path. He’s confident, yet humble. He’s a leader and role model. When he speaks, people listen. Younger teammates seek his wisdom.
Life has been good to Rivera, who grew up amidst modest surroundings in the fishing village of Puerto Caimito in Panama. For 17 years, he has played for only one team, the legendary New York Yankees. He has a lovely wife and three kids, all boys. He makes $15 million a year because he is gifted with a special talent. And all is owed, Mariano says, to the glory of God.
“Whenever I go to the mound, I’m never nervous,” notes Rivera. “I’m in control because I know Jesus is with me.”
Unlike many star players today who possess selfishness and greed, Mariano is aware of his responsibilities as a baseball icon in the spotlight. He is a gracious host at his steakhouse in suburban New York City. He makes several courtesy appearances a year for the Christian-based organization Athletes In Action. He also participates in Christian ministry fundraisers for children in and around Manhattan. Rivera even built a huge church with his own money in Panama.
“I always feel good when I’m at church,” he explains. “I wanted to give back something to my people.”
There have been times when Mariano’s faith could have been shaken, like when two relatives were electrocuted in a tragic swimming pool accident. Or the heartbreaking loss in the 2001 World Series. But in life there is adversity. Rivera knows that and has never wavered. His faith is deeply instilled.
Rivera needs just a few dozen more saves to become baseball’s all time leader, and is under contract through 2012. He already holds the record in that category for the post season. He is surely destined for Cooperstown on the first eligible ballot. But he won’t take any of the credit.
“I don’t think my success has been a coincidence,” says Mariano, who has aspirations of becoming an ordained minister after retirement. “The Lord has always been there for me.”
Rivera was a cool customer during contract extension talks in the off season, avoiding the “dirty laundry” negotiations suffered by Yankee captain and friend Derek Jeter. Mariano and his agent, Fern Cuza, often played cat and mouse with the New York decision-makers, saying that the rival Boston Red Sox and another team were after his services, and reportedly for more money. Mariano is always available for interviews, but knows how to play hardball with the brash New York press. Whenever someone crosses the line, Rivera won’t curse or become aggressive. He’ll simply laugh and say something like, “well, that’s not for you to know.” Game over.