Professional athletes have two things in abundance that most of us do not – money and time. Inevitably, inertia must draw them to causes and foundations, and Mariano Rivera is no different. “I believe in youth. We created this foundation to help kids who are less fortunate and get their focus on school rather than the streets,” he said at Bedford Hills Acura on Saturday. But it was the infectious energy and illumination around young fans that made him a man of his words.
Signing autographs for little Reid and Riley Bakuzonis, Rivera made sure to get a hands-on demonstration of the younger boy’s Spiderman ring. “I think my son thinks Mariano Rivera is Spiderman,” said his mom Genienne.
Later on as he took questions from the audience, a shy voice ecked out a – “Do you like playing for the Yankees.”
Staying on the child’s level without talking down, Rivera exhibited a boyishness in response that delighted everyone. “I love to be on the Yankees,” his eyes smiled as wide as his grin.
A spokesperson with that much spunk, the Mariano Rivera Foundation will always get its due. But the future Hall of Famer has no intentions of ever being greedy when it comes to goodwill, according Thomas Conklin, president of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, who was on Hand with representatives from Ronald McDonald House… “Whenever he makes appearances he reaches out to local charities like us to join him,” said Conklin. “How cool is that.”
Conklin wasn’t hesitant either to share some second hand accounts to help gauge the true warmth of Rivera. “We know when kids come back they consistently single out guys like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter as going out of their way to grant a wish. They are the class of the Yankee organization,” he says.
Eventually, though, the grownups did get a chance to have their say. Referring to the cause of the season ending ACL injury, Rivera was succinct in response to whether he will stick to his pregame outfield warm up. “If they don’t want me in the outfield,” he said, “they better tie me up.”
Rivera stuck to the sentiment in offering advice to young fan with major league aspirations. “Don’t pay attention to what people tell you that you can’t do. Just believe and follow your dream,” said Rivera. Of course, he tempered that with the need to study and put faith in God’s plan – no matter where it leads.
Given the manner in which he described his playing relationship with long time battery mate Jorge Posada, faith and mystery must take precedence in Rivera’s said plan. Always knowing what the other is thinking, he joked in response to Yorktown Middle School Softball player Taylor Ricardo, “It’s almost like a marriage.”
Dissolved, on a day to day basis with Posada’s retirement, the greatest closer in the history of baseball will not simply tail off as someone else assumes his role. “I’m going to stay involved in my church. I’m going to serve the lord and I’m going to continue trying to be a role model for kids,” he concluded.