Now playing center field, No. 42… ?
One of the treats of getting to Yankee Stadium early in the afternoon on a game day is to watch Mariano Rivera patrol center field during batting practice, gracefully making sure everything hit in his general direction doesn’t hit the turf.
Had things gone differently in his life, there’s really no reason to doubt that Rivera could have played a different position instead of becoming the game’s all-time saves leader. The Yankees wouldn’t change a thing, but Rivera still dreams of playing center field in a Major League game.
“You know what, I want to. I want to talk to that man over there,” Rivera said, nodding toward Joe Girardi’s office at Steinbrenner Field. “I want to. I’d love to. But, again, you know, it’s not something I look at as a joke. I want to do it right.”
This isn’t the first time that Girardi has been reminded of Rivera’s desire, and he did accommodate Jorge Posada’s wishes to play second base last August. But granting Rivera’s wish creates a great risk for Girardi, who’d be holding his breath every second his closer spends out there.
There’s no perfect time to do it, unless it’s clear the Yankees are going to miss the playoffs (think 2008) and Rivera has already announced his retirement. Even if they’ve already clinched a playoff spot in September, they’d still need Rivera for the World Series run, and losing him would be catastrophic to their postseason chances.
Still, Girardi hinted that if 2012 is going to be Rivera’s final season, he might be inclined to roll the dice.
“He’d have to share his plans with me to be in that mix,” Girardi said. “I wonder if he’s going to come stand next to me for two innings like Jorgie did, in my ear. That bullpen phone will be ringing a lot in the bullpen: ‘It’s Mo again.’”
Rivera would never take matters into his own hands, but Girardi admitted that if Rivera raced to center field and told Curtis Granderson to hit the showers, there wouldn’t be a whole lot the Yankees could do about it.
“What if he was to run out there and say, ‘You’re out?’” Girardi said. “What are you going to say to him?”
Rivera said he would be fine with playing as little as one pitch in center field; really, he just wants to check that box on a list that has seen him accomplish almost everything else he dreamed of in the game.
“Hopefully. Hopefully,” Rivera said. “If not, I’m OK.”
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