Who will their Yankee be?

I just finished watching the amazing Bronx farewell to one of the all-time Yankee greats, Mariano Rivera.  As I sat and watched Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte come out to the mound, I found myself in a strange situation.  I was getting a little misty.  I know I’m probably not supposed to admit that as a guy watching sports, but I couldn’t help it.  I could watch the whole Bambi’s mom scene probably a thousand times without tearing up, but bring Mo out to the mound for the final time at Yankee Stadium, and I’m a quivering simp.

As I sat there next to my wife, trying to slyly avert my eyes from where she could see, I realized why I was having this response.

Sure, I have seen some great things from Mo.  I’ve seen him pitch in person at the ‘98 World Series.  I’ve seen him shut guys down in the postseason time and time again.  I felt the pain with him as he gave up that bloop hit to the D-Backs in 2001.  I’ve watched him as he’s pitched his way to clearly the best closer the game has ever seen.  Yep, I’ve seen a lot with Mo on the mound.

But I didn’t have these emotions sneak up on me because he was a great pitcher.  No, it’s because there are a whole lot of memories wrapped up in the over 15 years that Mo has been the anchor for the Yankees.

There were the dog-piles between my brother and me as we watched the Yankees win the World Series.

There were the times of celebration as this Jersey boy was far from home in AZ, and Mo’s presence on the mound somehow helped me feel more connected to where I grew up.

And there were those hard times in life, the challenges, the struggles, where a Yankee win – even if “just a game” – helped lift the weight a little bit.

A lot of memories have been made during the “Mo years”, just like they were during the “Mattingly years”.  Honestly, I think it’s amazing and rare that I’ve been able to follow not just one Yankee great over the years, but two.

Yes, there have been other Yankees’ greats, but something set Mattingly and Mariano apart.  It was who they were off the field, not just on.  They lived a different way.  They were never the womanizers or the cheaters.  They were the warriors who played through pain, who gave it their all, and who knew that what they did off the field was more important than anything they could ever do on it.

As many of his peers have pointed out, Mariano Rivera is a true class act.  I’m sure many people helped shape him along the way, but he has been clear what is most important in his life:  “I believe in Jesus Christ, and I cannot move without his direction,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that I’m a perfect man. Now I wish I could tell you that I’m perfect, but I’m not. But I’m always trying to please the Lord, and that’s my goal.” (Sports Spectrum)

With all of this in mind, I’m left wondering as the images of tonight’s farewell drift away – who will be my kids’ Yankee?  In this age of “follow the money” and rare team loyalty, will there be another player who comes up through the system, who gives 100% on the field day-in and day-out?  Will there be another player who has his priorities right and lives life “with all their heart” for the things that really matter off the field?

It may be unlikely, but after this misty-moment tonight, I believe it can happen at least one more time.  Not for me, but for the next generation of Yankees’ fans that fill my life with such joy.  Who will their Yankee be?

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