Next up in the Pinch Hitters series is Rebecca Glass, who got poetic about one of the great Yankees we’ve ever known.
Rebecca has been writing her blog, This Purist Bleeds Pinstripes, since September 2007. I’ve been reading her work for a while now, and when her guest post suggestion arrived, I hardly needed to open it to know who she wanted to write about.
I’d go ahead and tell you who her favorite Yankee is — “Until Jesús breaks in,” she wrote — but that might ruin the post.
Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man tells us to think of the Great DiMaggio.
Since I have so little respect for great literature, I’d like to amend that:
When you’re in your skiff, trying to haul in the marlin against the ferocious storm, think of the Great Mariano.
When you are a child, it’s an imperative to choose favorites. Favorite food. Favorite color. Favorite athlete.
How did one choose Mariano, way back when, over Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez?
Mariano rolls off the tongue, fluid and easy, like butter melting on fresh-from-the-oven bread. Mariano. Marreeahno.
The name itself is bait.
The first real look comes in October 1999.
It’s not that one hasn’t seen him before; it’s that 1999 is the first season I am old enough to appreciate what I am seeing.
It’s the first time I hear his name in the same breath as “postseason,” “scoreless” and “record.” The first time I understand.
There was an article in the Record. Something about death, taxes and Rivera. Eleven years later, yellowed from exposure, it’s still posted in my bedroom.
Every time I see it I think: did that writer know that by 2010, Mariano would, for many Yankee fans, be myth as much as man?
Mariano is a symbol as much as he is a pitcher.
Stoicism, poise, consistency — all the traits we value in our heroes.
He pitches with an injured shoulder (2008), in the postseason after a cousin is killed in a pool accident (2004), in the World Series with injured ribs (2009).
He gets one save, then ten, then a hundred and on a June night in 2009, five hundred.
And those 500 don’t include what he’s done in October.
After Game Three of the ALCS, when he gets out of a bottom of the ninth inning that sees a runner on third base with none out, you get the feeling that you could tell Mariano to climb Everest oxygen free, and he’d do it in record time while managing to rescue a stranded climber as well.
Almost twenty years after he first signs a professional baseball contract, a year to the day after a landmark election, he stands on the mound and throws one last pitch to a Philadelphia Philly.
In the whole of the 2009 postseason, he is the only closer that does not blow a lead.
Maybe Hemingway knew something. After all, Mariano is a fisherman’s son.