Mariano Rivera has been feted by opposing teams throughout MLB with gifts all season, but the last and most lavish ceremonies took place before the Yankees resumed their chase for a wild-card berth yesterday afternoon.
The 50-minute ceremony had everything imaginable, including a retirement ceremony for his No. 42 in Monument Park.
“I didn’t know what to feel, especially at the monument where they have the number retired already,” Rivera said. “It was emotional and a lot of adrenaline, but overall it was great.”
“Just a special day,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Just really a wonderful day.”
The ceremony also included a special performance by Metallica, whose hit “Enter Sandman” has signaled Rivera is coming into the game since 1999.
Also introduced were former teammates Jeff Nelson, David Cone, John Wetteland, Hideki Matsui, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. The group of former Yankees sports a combined 27 championship rings.
The last introductions of Yankees were manager Joe Torre, whom said that his work was essentially done once Rivera came into the game and trainer Gene Monahan.
“There is nobody,” Torre said, “that is ever going to do what he did out of the bullpen.”
The final introductions were for the family of Jackie Robinson, Rachel and Sharon Robinson, who were escorted to the field by Robinson Cano. Then came Rivera’s wife Clara and his three sons, who were escorted to the field by captain Derek Jeter.
The ceremony was poignant, coming five years and one day after Jeter’s famous speech after Rivera threw the last pitch at Old Yankee Stadium. The ceremony also had some light-hearted humor, especially when Rivera began speaking and thanked his parents for “having him.”
Rivera also paid tribute to his teammates, fans and George Steinbrenner by saying:
“To my teammates, past and present, I thank you guys. ... I love you guys and you guys are special. To you fans, thank you for 19 years of support. It has been a great run, guys...you guys will have a part of my heart here in New York.
“I wish he was here, Mr. George Steinbrenner. For giving me the opportunity to play for his team."I love him so much, and I do miss him.”
Rivera also added several gifts to his growing collection. The four ex-Yankees on San Francisco’s coaching staff (Joe Lefebrve, Hensley Meulens, Roberto Kelly and Dave Righetti) presented Rivera with a 16-by-20 watercolor painting by San Francisco artist Saul Levy of his five-out save there in June 2007.
Next was a guitar autographed by Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays, a customized speaker from Metallica and a $100,000 check to Rivera’s foundation presented by the Yankees.
The final gifts brought more humor to the ceremony as Jeter and Girardi walked out of the dugout with a baseball bat rocking chair. Rivera drew laughs when he tried it out before getting his final gift, a crystal replica of the glove he used this season.
During the game, video tributes poured in from opposing managers and players such as David Ortirz, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Hamilton, David Wright, Matt Cain, as well as ex-teammates Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher.
Other Yankees, who never played with Rivera, also gave their tributes. Lou Piniella, Rickey Henderson, Roy White and Bobby Richardson saluted him before ex-teammate Wade Boggs feted him.
Across baseball, Trevor Hoffman, George Brett and John Smoltz offered tributes while legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully urged Rivera to “not be a stranger” in retirement.
NBA Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley also participated in the video sendoff. From the NFL, Tom Brady, Mark Sanchez (who was booed) and the Giants’ Victor Cruz and Justin Tuck also offered video tributes.
At the end of the ceremony, which drew the Yankees’ sixth sellout crowd of the season, Rivera said, “The New York Yankees are a great organization. And you guys, the fans, are the best. So let’s play ball! We’ve got to go.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.