There used to be this old ritual that would take place over on the corner of East 161st Street and River Avenue down in The Bronx when toward the last few moments of a baseball game, thousands of fans would cheer for a man as he jogged up to the pitcher's mound and almost effortlessly put to rest any potential comebacks in order to kickstart the "New York, New York" track over the loudspeaker.
This man, donning both the most famous baseball jersey on planet Earth as well as the now extinct number 42, would then high-five his teammates, say hello to some fanatics hoping to meet him, and then graciously exit via the clubhouse.
Every game for nearly two decades this Panamanian Maestro was the center of this odd custom, and while it most definitely got old for many fans from Boston, Toronto, or Baltimore, it was at times the hottest act in the City that Never Sleeps.
This man won awards both as an individual and as a member of one of the greatest dynasties in the sport's history. Alternatively, he became his trademark walk-up song. He was the Sandman who was sent forth to send his opponents "off to never, never land."
So it may come as a surprise to many younger fans who may not know the legend of Mariano Rivera that while all of these things may be true, and they most definitely are, he did all of that while only using one pitch.
Now, I must say before I continue that he did have more than one pitch in his ensemble. I know for a fact that he did use a fastball occasionally, and I think he also had a changeup. I'm sure that if you were to go through all of his appearances in any of the scores of video games he was in during his career, he probably even had a curveball at one point. This is all to say that while the didn't ACTUALLY have more than one pitch, his cutter is so integral to his game that it almost doesn't matter whether or not he had a fastball or changeup.
Derek Jeter, another pretty good Yankee, probably described the feeling associated with seeing Mo's cutter the best in an op-ed he wrote for The Players Tribune this week. He wrote, "The guy at the plate knew he was going to throw that cutter. Fifty thousand plus at Yankee Stadium knew he was going to throw that cutter. And it wouldn't matter. Because Mo wasn't trying to trick you. And in the end, like it or not, he was just going to flat out beat you."
And that sentiment was highlighted by many former players and fans around the world. Mariano's cutter was so obvious not only in that he was going to throw it, but that you weren't going to hit it.
Isn't that the worst feeling to have?
Just picture it; you are a professional in a craft and you train hard everyday to better yourself at it. You may be really talented, especially when you challenge others in competitions, but one day this guy steps in who is so good at what they do, that they don't even need to trick you in order to still come out on top.
But instead of hating him, you instead idolize him because you understand that while he is a dominant presence on the field, he's worked his tail off to get to that point.
You've heard that while growing up in Panama he practiced his form while wearing a makeshift baseball glove out of cardboard.
You've heard how he tried to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues, but was quickly relegated to the bullpen and was essentially stuck in this new confounded "closer" position.
You've heard that while he was experiencing the highest of highs in his professional career, there were moments in his real life that were filled with genuine loss and sadness.
And yet through all of that, he not only becomes the GREATEST closer in the history of this beautiful game, but he does it with a fastball that has a little bit of sideways movement. If that's not a tremendous story, I have no idea what is.
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