Baseball is one of those rare and unifying things that lives in the hearts of many Americans. And while I in no way discount the ugly side of fan violence or deny that MLB is a corporation that exists with the goal of taking your money from you via twelve dollar beers, Buster Posey’s ACTUAL GAME-USED JOCK STRAP and repeated uniform tweaks, I cannot help but think that it does more good than harm in this world, even though fewer and fewer of us are capable of affording decent seats (provided you aren’t a Marlins fan; then, you, Steve-who-sits-behind-home-plate-for-ten-dollars-a-year, are a king among men). Also, okay, tribalism is kept alive and well through sports, and who knows if that’s a good thing, but I cannot help but think there’s something intrinsically important in this game as it relates to our collective experience of being American.
And my case in point for all this is Mariano Rivera.
I grew up as a Dodgers fan, but my father, who owns more Yankees crap than anyone on earth, always exposed me to more than just those Blue Bums. So much so, that my favorite baseball player of all time was and continues to be Reggie Jackson, and he never spent a cup of coffee in the National League. (FYI, to date when I tell people this they usually respond with knowing smiles and word of encouragement. Because he’s Mr. Goddamn October and mofo’s respect the king.)
At around age fifteen, when I was fully committed to being the most punk rock person I could be, I stopped watching team sports on the regular and continued to not do so for fifteen more years. I watched the Olympics, MMA and other X-Games-style board-sports, but team sports didn’t stir anything in me but nostalgia. As the years went on, I would tune into a game now and then, but had no fan allegiance and it was usually because I was in a bar and had no choice but to watch the game, or I was killing time until Battlestar Galactica’s time slot.
Then, in 2009, I found myself tuning into Sharks games and getting seriously pumped up but what I was seeing. And one day, post-divorce Dan Silver and his dad went to go see the Giants and the love affair with baseball, and sports as a whole, was once again ignited. I kept going to games, usually solo, and Dad and I would B.S. about baseball via text as a result.
I was lucky to be a newfound Giants fan in early 2010, and by some stroke of kismet they won the World Series that year. The first Giants T-shirt I bought was one with Brian Wilson’s name and number. It now hangs on my wall near the iconic photo of he and Buster Posey about to jump into one another’s arms after he sailed a pitch past Nelson Cruz on a 3-2 count to seal the championship while Ol’ GWB looked on in disbelief. At the time, I was recovering from one of my many, repeated, annoying heartbreaks, and I credit that 2010 team with helping me remember the bright side of things. I’ve been loyal since. (You can call me fair-weather all you want but I went to the second to last game of the season and the Giants were hotly competing for last place.)
A wonderful thing happened with my rediscovered baseball passion: it brought me closer to my father. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always loved the bastard, but the gateway to regular communication that was opened up after reuniting with baseball has brought us closer than we have ever been really. That’s pretty damn cool.
So, the night before I wrote the bulk of this article, two remarkable things happened on a day when I felt lower, more downtrodden than I had in months: Brian Wilson acted like an asshole here in SF while dressed in Dodger blue (he can go fuck himself) and Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer to ever play the game, had his last appearance on the mound.
The latter was a wonderful moment in baseball. I, like many others, was moved to tears by the scene of Jeter and Pettitte going to get the ball from Rivera for the first/last time. But I didn’t see any of it play out live. I watched the highlights the following morning. Instead, that night, I told my father about how terribly heartbroken I was while I threw shots down my gullet with the 49ers on and he consoled me from across the country, no doubt from a bar where he was watching the whole thing live and not really paying attention to me. Then he asked if I wanted his freaking 1988 Mustang 5.0 convertible. To which I responded that I indeed did - for some freaking reason. Accordingly, he sent me a text stating the following: “Get your Jewish, Irish ass out here and come get it.”
So next month I am planning to go to western New York and then obtain a car that I have historically despised, only to drive it across the US. I think I should get a Yankees jersey with the number 42 on the back while I’m out there.
Mariano Rivera exemplified perfection and humility in his craft during his nineteen year career in MLB. The son of a fisherman from Panama taught us all something about how great this American Dream can be. And it happened in our greatest city, in the melting pot that was the arrival for my ancestors and probably at least some of yours too, a place that refuses to be intimidated by the hatred of foreign extremism or domestic backwards ignorance. Rivera did it all wearing the number of one of our greatest sports/American heroes and lived up to the weight of it. His exit from professional sports should stand as a shining example of how a consummate gentleman should behave under such a spotlight. Brian Wilson, my former favorite Giants player, was in contrast a giant baby, while standing right here in my beloved city.
Two contrasting figures. A hero and a villain. A wonderful mental escape from the seemingly endless parade of shit that tends to personify the modern, adult American experience.
So no matter how poorly I feel right now, at least pitchers and catchers report in five months. If you need me, I’ll be in my new ride doing burnouts in front of a high school listening to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch from now on.
And fuck you, Tea Party.