That’s how long it had been since Mariano Rivera faced live batters until throwing a batting practice session yesterday. On April 30, 2012 Mo picked up his fifth save of the season in a 2-1 victory over Baltimore at the Stadium. Three days later he tore his ACL shagging flies in Kansas City. The 20-pitch effort is a small body of work, but Rivera was optimistic afterwards saying to MLB.com’s Adam Berry, “[It was] the first BP that I threw in almost a year, so I’m real happy with the results. It will get better. The longer I keep throwing, it will get better… It’s good, man. I feel real good. I feel real good with the results.”
Others at Yankee camp voiced similar optimism after witnessing the Sandman take the mound. Manager Joe Girardi said he looked “like what you expect him to look like, which is a good thing. Delivery, the ball movement, the strikes he’s throwing, he’s throwing it where he wants to, not taking a lot of time in between pitches — he looked normal to me.” Jorge Posada may have spoken the four most prolific words of spring training when he said, “The cutter’s still cutting.”
Rivera’s outlook has remained entirely positive since first throwing a bullpen session on February 13th. After that 25-pitch performance in front of some 40 reporters, Newsday’s David Lennon quoted Mo at a press conference saying he was a “9 out of 10″ and would be a 10 by the start of the season. During his entire time in Tampa Mo has reported feeling no discomfort, has not appeared to be favoring his left knee at all, and by all accounts seems to be back to his old self, right down to his pinpoint accuracy.
For those of us who have watched Mariano during his 17-year, Hall of Fame career the positive news is what we were hoping for last May, but were not sure was possible. Seeing him writhing on the warning track in pain was almost more than we could bear, because if you’ve watched Mariano for any amount of time, you become a fan not only of his supreme talent but of who he is as a person. There is simply not a classier player in baseball. While a cold-blooded assassin on the mound, Mo is a humble and quiet man off of it, always ready to deflect praise to God or his teammates. He has built churches both in his native Panama and locally in New Rochelle and has given back in a myriad ways through his Rivera Foundation.
We wanted him to come back healthy not just for the service of his beguiling cutter, but because hurting his knee while shagging flies would have been a far too ignominious end for one of the best players and people in baseball history. For those of us that are fans of Mariano, beyond our own selfishness to have the best closer in baseball back in the bullpen, we simply wanted him to be able to go out on his own terms. If the early reports from Tampa hold true it appears he will be able to do that, if only for one Mo go around.