May 20, 2013
I’ve long admired Mariano Rivera, the famed closer for the New York Yankees, who is in the final year of his illustrious career. Not only has Rivera saved more games (624 and counting) than anyone in the history of America’s great pastime, but he is the rare figure in sports: a high-profile player – for the hated Yankees no less – who inspires nothing but universal respect and reverence, even among Red Sox fans.
Rivera carries himself with a grace that seems like it comes from another time. He moves slowly, doesn’t waste energy, and has a smile that seems to express deep and authentic joy.
As he makes his final trips around major league cities, he is meeting with fans from rival teams, at his request, to hear their stories. Two weeks ago in Kansas City, Rivera met with Royals fans, some of whom had lost children or were themselves battling illness. Rivera, who has himself known difficult losses, listened compassionately, telling those who spoke that he would be praying for them.
Rivera is a religious Christian, but contrary to how Tim Tebow and some other high profile athletes have been publicly demonstrative and more “in-your-face” about what they believe, Rivera walks his walk quietly. “Faith isn’t something that you decide to have. You don’t wake up and say, ‘Today, I’m going to have faith.’ It’s a process… I talk a lot about the Lord, but you don’t often hear me talk about religion,” Rivera said. “I believe in the Lord. I believe in the spirit. I believe you have to give to it. You have to believe. That doesn’t mean that you’re always going to get what you want.”
The role of religion in the public sphere is a fascination and complex dynamic, particularly for Jews, who are sensitive as religious minorities. But perhaps we can all appreciate Rivera as a man who brings the universal positives of any faith well-practiced to all whose lives his touches.