the other side of Mo.....No, Really: Tell Me About You
Rivera's Farewell Tour Has an Unusual Wrinkle: Pregame Chats With Enemy Employees and Fans
By DANIEL BARBARISI
CLEVELAND—It is two hours before the scheduled start of Wednesday night's Yankees-Indians game, and baseball's all-time saves leader is deep inside the bowels of Progressive Field, holding a marching band's bass drum.
Mariano Rivera wants to know how the drum's owner, John Adams, hits it when he's really mad.
"When the Indians are supposed to score, and they don't score, how do you hit it?" Rivera asks.
It isn't quite like that, explained Adams, who has been beating the drum at Indians games since 1973.
"When there are people who you'd really like to hit, but you can't, you imagine their faces are on there, and you hit it…It's a stress reliever for me. And you've given me a lot of stress!" Adams says, prompting a laugh from the 43-year-old Yankee closer.
Rivera ate it up, laughing along with the famous drummer. But he also turned serious, telling Adams how much he respected his longevity and the contributions he has made to baseball in Cleveland.
"Hey, man, I love you for a long time," Rivera said. "You're loyal. You've been here a long time. I really respect that. You've been here what, 40 years? I've been here for 19 of those."
When he was done talking with Adams, Rivera moved through a crowd of Indians employees, one by one, hearing stories from people who had worked on the grounds crew, or in the offices, or in ticketing.
It is the part of his yearlong retirement tour that he has come to cherish the most.
When Rivera decided to retire, he announced that in each ballpark, he wanted to meet people behind the scenes—employees or fans or people connected to the game who don't get to tell their stories. He has spent a lifetime in the spotlight, the solitary figure in the middle of the mound. But as his baseball career enters his final months, Rivera has found pleasure in quiet moments with everyday people who perform the often thankless jobs of the baseball world.
"When I retired, I wanted to do something different, something that people don't see," Rivera said. "It doesn't always have to be the same on the field. There's a lot of other people that run the teams. They are here but we don't see them."
So before games in each road city, Rivera can be found deep in some back room, chatting it up with staffers from each club.
They ask him questions—his favorite team (1998) toughest enemy hitter (former Seattle Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez) or his first sporting love (soccer). But just as much, Rivera wants to hear from them—their memorable moments, their love of baseball, their favorite players.
"I wanted to hear that," he said. "I wanted to hear what they think, and all of them were thankful."
He spent close to an hour with 25 staffers in Cleveland, the second stop on Rivera's ballpark tour. In Detroit, Rivera met with a former Tigers groundskeeper, a U.S. Navy veteran, and a longtime season ticket holder.
Before each series, Yankees director of communications and media relations Jason Zillo confers with his counterpart about the types of people Rivera wants to meet, and the clubs handpick the attendees.
"He gave me the parameters, and until I screw up, he's letting me run with it," Zillo said, adding that they will vary the types of meetings in each city.
There are still the unavoidable on-field ceremonies, where teams give Rivera framed pictures or jars of dirt. And Rivera is trying to enjoy those, though they make him uncomfortable. But the real pleasure of his final season is coming before the games, deep underneath the stands, hearing stories from the people he says have allowed him to flourish over the years.
"This is what it is," Rivera said. "You want to be able to say thanks to these people. No one sees these people. You take the time to say thanks."