You definitely don’t want to follow Mariano Rivera. You want to be the guy after that guy.
At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom that has been around the Yankees the last few years, as Rivera gets closer to the end of his magnificent career. Why would you want to stand in that shadow? Luckily for the Yankees, that shouldn’t be a problem for at least the next two years.
Rivera arrived at camp today in his usual regal fashion, although he acknowledged that it gets tougher and tougher to leave his family every year. He had a built-in excuse of a household-wide flu attack this year, picking up an extra couple of days, but his son Jaziel was still sobbing at Rivera’s hip when he left for the airport on Wednesday evening.
“Baseball is not everything,” Rivera said. “That’s what we do, yeah, but there’s still life after baseball. There will come the time when you have to make a decision, even though you still have the ability to play. That comes within yourself. If you don’t feel it in your heart, that’s time to say goodbye. Why are you going to do it if you don’t have the desire to do it?”
Don’t worry – Rivera said he still feels “the love and passion for the game,” and he was all smiles as he went through the paces of his pitchers fielding practice with his teammates this afternoon.
“It’s getting harder and harder, but it’s a challenge,” Rivera said. “That’s why you want to do it. You’ve been motivated by your passion.”
And even Rivera isn’t sure how he’ll know when it’s time to walk off into the game’s sunset, beginning the five-year wait for his certain enshrinement in Cooperstown.
“I don’t know. I haven’t been in that situation,” Rivera said. “I have to ask some guys. But I’m sure you will lose the passion, I guess. You will lose that strong incentive to be in the game, in the ballpark, every day. I think you will lose that.”
So it does beg the question — who replaces Mariano when ‘Enter Sandman’ plays for the final time?
Rafael Soriano led the American League in saves last year and said in January he would like to be a closer again, but he may opt out after this season and seek a bigger contract elsewhere. Once upon a time, people thought Joba Chamberlain would be the heir apparent, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
You want to toss Dave Robertson’s name in the mix? OK, but let’s remember people once also suggested Mark Melancon or J.B. Cox would be the next Yankees closer. It’s a problem the Yankees are glad they haven’t had to handle yet.
“Mo is not going to be an easy person to replace, just because of how good he’s been over the years, but also what he’s meant to this organization and the clubhouse and his leadership skills,” Joe Girardi said.
“You have to be careful, because you don’t want the person who comes in after Mo to feel like he has to replace Mo. That person only has to just do his job. There’s only going to be one Mo.”
In any event, Girardi said that he thought there were definitely candidates in the clubhouse right now who might be up to the task, although it’s anyone’s guess if that’ll actually come to pass.
“You’re looking too far ahead,” Girardi said, nodding toward the door and adding, “I think there’s a lot of very good arms in there that have a chance to replace Mo.”