NEW YORK – There really is no way to describe what was witnessed at Yankee Stadium prior to Sunday afternoon’s tilt between the New York Yankees and the San Francisco Giants. The 50-minute ceremony honoring Mariano Rivera was nothing short of beautiful, serving as a fitting sendoff to Baseball’s all-time saves leader at the culmination of an illustrious career.
Early in the ceremony, Rivera peeled away a blue-cloth covering in Monument Park with great care, revealing a pinstriped ‘42’ that will forever hang in his honor. The result was a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute as Rivera and his family looked on in awe.
Joining Rivera and his family was the wife and daughter of Jackie Robinson, for whom number ‘42’ was universally retired in honor of back in 1997. Rivera’s pinstriped ‘42’ replaced Robinson’s number on the wall, however, the great closer helped reveal a new plaque that would stand forever in honor of Robinson and his contributions to the game of baseball.
"It's a great honor for me to be the last Major League Baseball player to ever wear No. 42," Rivera said. "Even though I didn't meet him, he has been a hero and an inspiration for me, and I thank Mr. Jackie Robinson for that."
Rivera gave thanks to the fans, some of which waived Panamanian flags from the upper deck and repeatedly started chants of “Mariano! Mariano!” on what Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed as “Mariano Rivera Day” in the City of New York.
"To the fans, thank you for 19 years of support," Rivera said. "It has been a great run, guys. You guys have been amazing and you always have been here for me and for the organization, and I will never forget that. You guys will have a part of my heart here."
Rivera’s former manager Joe Torre and former teammates Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Jeff Nelson, David Cone and John Wetteland were all on hand for the ceremony. Joining them were former Yankees general manager Gene Michael and former trainer Gene Monahan, and the group stood at the center of the infield to watch a video presentation of Rivera's career highlights.
"To my teammates, past and present, I appreciate that. The Lord has blessed me with a big family, and all these men have been part of my family," Rivera said.
As the video montage wound down, fans saw perhaps the worst-kept secret of the ceremony begin to take place as Metallica took the stage in center field. The band, equipped with pinstriped jerseys, played a live version of Rivera’s entry song, “Enter Sandman.” As lead singer James Hetfield announced, “This is for you, Mariano,” the bullpen door opened and Rivera began a slow walk to the pitcher’s mound, savoring each moment of the standing ovation he received along the way.
As Rivera arrived in the infield, amused at some of his former teammates capturing the moment on their cell phone cameras, Rivera gave a tip of the cap to the crowd as the ceremony moved into a presentation of gifts.
The Giants presented Rivera with a watercolor painting of his June 2007 appearance at AT&T Park. Even more special was a gift that the team had worked on with Metallica to design: a guitar autographed by Giants Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays.
The gift presentation by the Yankees was truly special. Rivera was presented with a $100,000 check towards the Mariano Rivera Foundation, only then to see Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi coming forth with a rocking chair made of baseball bats, with Rivera’s retirement logo engraved into the seat. The veteran relief pitcher immediately tried out his new chair, only to have to rise again as more gifts came forward.
The Steinbrenner family presented Rivera with a Waterford crystal replica of his glove, as well as a crystal ball with the Rivera retirement logo as they honored one of the greatest Yankees of the Steinbrenner era. Rivera also received a matted replica of the number and plaque which will forever hang in his honor in Monument Park.
While Rivera's legacy will live on in Monument Park, the Yankees were unable to give him a fitting ending to "Mariano Rivera Day," as they fell to the San Francisco Giants in a tight 2-1 contest. Though Rivera wished for a better result and an opportunity to record one more save for the 49,197 fans who came out to honor him, Sunday was still a day that "the last 42" will never forget.