Saint James - (WALK) He's among the brightest stars of all-time at his craft, but for future Baseball Hall-of-Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera the fundamentals of success will always be down-to-earth: prayer, parenting and mentoring.
Rivera ended his pitching career at Yankee Stadium Thursday and will retire at the end of the regular season, Sunday. Throughout the 2013 season, Rivera's "farewell" season, baseball fans throughout the nation showered Rivera with respect and affection but it was during 2012, when an injury put his career in jeopardy, that Rivera delivered a powerful and heart-felt pitch to fans and families on Long Island: his life's story and insights into the meaning of success.
On August 12 Rivera came to Saint James on behalf of the Long Island Mentoring Partnership. He was greeted by an estimated 200 fans from ages 9-months to nearly 90.
Rivera is a 13-time Major League All-Star pitcher for the New York Yankees and a five-time World Series champion. He broke Baseball's record of 602 career-saves in September of 2011 and will end his career as the all-time leader with 652 saves, capping his legendary 19-year career.
A quiet-spoken man with a warm smile, Rivera received an enthusiastic greeting from his openly-adoring fans, but after warming up with some soft-ball questions Rivera took command, as a closer will, and wound up to deliver his thoughts about mentoring and the people who had a profound impact on his life.
The first light in his life, according to Rivera, is his religious faith. He offered examples of God providing mentors and positive influences in his life.
When a young boy asked if Rivera was "the best" player among his childhood friends, knowing his future would be in baseball, Rivera responded by saying he found joy in playing the game and always did his best. "Follow your heart and God will bring you the people who you need."
Rivera described his father, brothers, teachers and coaches in his native Panama, and the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, as blessings in his life. "They expected the best, always the best, and from them I learned to always do my best," said Rivera.
Rivera encouraged his fans of all ages to seek opportunities to offer a kindness, to be an example, to be a mentor. "I believe even if I can't help everyone, I might help a person who helps someone else," he said.
Marcos Maldonado, director of development and community outreach for the Long Island Mentoring Partnership, welcomed Rivera and welcomed his comments about simple opportunities for each of us to mentor and encourage young people in all walks of life.
"How can we get our youth to see a brighter future? How do we create the village-mentality to raise a child? We must have adults who say, 'I'm here, I'll listen, and maybe I can give you some advice.' Being the older person who listens and sees a child move in the right direction can be among the greatest feelings in the world," said Moldonado.
The Mentoring Partnership of Long Island serves approximately 10,000 young people, ages five through 18, according to Moldonado, and has ties to 200 organizations in Suffolk and Nassau, -not just to superstar athletes, but with teachers, civic leaders and business people, including Smithtown Acura President Robert Certilman.
Rivera received a certificate of appreciation from Certilman, Maldonado and members of the Mentoring Partnership in a formal presentation. Later, Certilman invited Rivera and several young people into his private office for an informal conversation. Rivera autographed baseballs for his young fans, and listened to questions about his childhood, and about his setbacks and triumphs.
Again, Rivera turned attention toward his hosts by asking the young people about their dreams. One dreams of being a physician's assistant, another an attorney, and another a computer specialists. "Computer Genius," said Rivera.
Rivera said faith is required to achieve a dream. He spoke of poverty in Panama, about using cardboard to fashion a baseball glove, using tree branches for bats and playing with worn-out shoes, or no shoes. And about being called up to the major leagues, only to be sent-down before catching on for good. Ability, joy, faith, and mentors carried him forward, he said.
Rivera was 42 that year and was in the process of working his way from another setback: a devastating, season-ending knee injury in May. He injured the knee while “playing” baseball, running in the outfield catching fly-balls with his friends, his teammates.
"Instead of asking, 'why me,' I said, 'OK Lord, what must I do now?'" What he did, was work through rehabilitation and return to form as one of the best closers in Baseball, earning the title of Most Valuable Player of the 2013 All-Star Game, at the age of 43.
Now, with the season nearly over and the Yankees out of contention, Rivera would like to fulfill another dream: running and playing the outfield with his friends during a Major League Baseball game. It may be another dream fulfilled with the help of friends and mentors; this time his coach and former catcher Joe Girardi. Stay tuned!
Photo: Mariano Rivera