SARATOGA SPRINGS — Mariano Rivera’s special day at Saratoga Race Course on Friday offered the former relief pitcher a chance to enjoy himself and not stress over his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 21 in Cooperstown.
Not that it’s been off his mind for long.
In a press conference Friday morning adjacent to the silks room, the 49-year-old Rivera spoke about his past, present and future, but he admitted his upcoming induction has been a big focus.
“The last six months have been amazing — busy, but amazing,” said Rivera, the pitcher who spent all 19 years of his career with the New York Yankees from 1995-2013. “Been waiting patiently for July 21. We have a few days ‘til that. I can’t wait, I’m excited. Since we received the call, oh my God, that was something special. It was amazing. Now we’re on the last stretch to be a Hall of Famer.”
Rivera is the first player to receive unanimous election into the Hall of Fame. He registered 652 regular-season saves and won five World Series with the Yankees. In the postseason, he had an 8-1 record 0.70 earned run average and 42 saves in 96 appearances.
Rivera said he’s humbled and privileged to have played the game so long and to be a unanimous selection.
“First of all, I don’t consider myself better than anyone else,” Rivera said. “I do my best for the team and respect the game, respect the media, understanding what they were all about. They were not my enemies. All the players and great players that are presently (in there), me being the one that has been the one that was unanimous, there is no word to describe it. All I can say is thank God. Again, that won’t make me better or less and won’t change my life, but it’s a great achievement, something I will treasure.”
Rivera said his first goal was just to play for a few years.
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“I said, ‘Lord, if you allow me to play a few years, I’ll be happy.’ I’d make some money, I’d go back to Panama, do some business, I’d be happy with that. Little did I know, New York City became my home. The few years I wanted to play happened to be 19 years. Of those 19 years, 17 years were closing. There were great joy moments, tough times, great times, but overall it was amazing.”
Having just played in his first Yankees Old-Timers Game, Rivera joked that he wanted to change the name of it.
“That was my favorite game during my time playing baseball. Every time they came I couldn’t wait for that day because I wanted to be with the Yogi Berras, the Whitey Fords and those guys. I was like a little child in a candy store,” Rivera said.
When asked what his favorite playing memory was, Rivera said it was a simple thing he did every day: wear the uniform.
“It was not pitching, no World Series, nothing like that; just wearing the uniform,” Rivera said. “I’m just honored and humble, coming from Panama, a small fishing town, to land in New York City and play for 19 seasons, it was amazing. There are no words to describe that.”
Since his retirement, Rivera and his wife, a pastor, restored a church in New Rochelle and now have a congregation there. He also has his Mariano Rivera Foundation, which gives scholarships to less fortunate youngsters. He also is building a learning center for underprivileged children.
“So we can help and teach them different ways and motivate them to be someone special,” he said.
After Friday’s third race, named after Rivera, the former pitcher addressed the crowd on a trackside ceremony, including a video tribute. Following that, the New York Racing Association presented him with Yankee-pinstriped jockey silks with his familiar number 42 on them.