Last night, Mariano Rivera was one of the honorees at the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence Gala. He was there to raise money and awareness for a group that works to support school programs that might otherwise go unfunded.
At one point he was asked to answer questions from a group of students. I was expecting a bunch of baseball questions — What’s it like to pitch at Yankee Stadium? Is Derek Jeter nice? That sort of thing — but instead, the kids asked a lot of stuff about education and community service and leadership. Rivera responded with answers about hard work and passion. He was soft-spoken and humble, which is always the case.
The baseball questions, came from the Post’s Dan Martin and I. There were a ton of folks waiting to shake Mo’s hand and snap cell phone pictures, so Dan and I made it quick with two basic topics.
“It seems like (it’s going to happen),” Rivera said. “I was told (it’s close), but it hasn’t been completed. I don’t want to say something that might mislead something.”
Rivera wasn’t in a position to say it’s definitely happening, but he is clearly excited about the (unofficial) two-game exhibition series expected to take place in Rivera’s home country during the 2014 spring schedule. This isn’t the first time it’s been in the works, he said.
“We were about to do that last year, I believe, but it fell,” Rivera said. “It didn’t go through. I would have loved to have done it. … It’s good because, if it happens, I will be happy. My people will have the opportunity to see that live: First of all, professional baseball, and second, the New York Yankees. Hopefully it happens and everybody is happy with it.”
Panama gets to see the Yankees. And the Yankees get to see Panama.
“We will make them feel at home,” Rivera said.
When Rivera took over for John Wetteland, he didn’t have the same sort of offseason uncertainty facing Dave Robertson this winter. He knew for certain that the closer job was his to lose.
“I knew because they called me, they told me,” Rivera said. “… It’s not surprising (that the Yankees are leaving options open this time). They want to make sure, I guess. I don’t know how they want to run it, but they want to make sure that they explore all of their abilities or chances.”
Rivera understands that the Yankees have to explore their options and build some backup plans, but he left no doubt that he’s hoping Robertson gets the job. And he’s hoping that Robertson is given some time to settle into the role.
“Hopefully they give him the job, because he can do that,” Rivera said. “But he doesn’t control that (decision). When it happens, then he has to be ready for it. Before, he just has to be ready for any situation. … You don’t know how you’re going to respond. You cannot (judge) a pitcher from five outings, or three or two outings. You have to allow (time) to see what you have. I think that’s exactly what they did with me. As a matter of fact, I blew like three or four saves in the first week. If they would have given up on me, we would never have this. You don’t know what it is. David has the pitches, but it’s the Yankees who make the decision.”
It wasn’t his first week, but Rivera really did blow three saves in his first seven outings in 1997.
One pretty bad cell phone picture, and two much better Associated Press photos