soft hands.


remember what he did for you, kid. not just what he did against your team...

With Rivera, it starts more with marvel than affection, more with awe and appreciation than feeling.

The guy has been scary-good for such a very long time. He plays the game at such a perfect pitch. To deny him is to turn away from some magical baseball something.

Years from now, when you sit your grandkids on your lap and tell them stories of baseball in your day, focus on the Diamondbacks and the Angels pulling longshot victories in the early oughts. Tell them about Bonds, Maddux, and Pedro. Gloss over the Yankee titles, downplay their run. But do linger long enough to tell them you saw Rivera pitch.

Tell them about weird, skidding cutters in pressure-packed air. Tell them about a wiry frame and perfectly calibrated physics.

In 18 postseason series coming into this fall, he had an ERA of 0.79 (and this year, it's hanging tight at 0.75). Tell them that.

Tell them about watching a guy who was consistent enough and dominant enough to make you think paradigm shift, to make you think hitting the target and fooling the hitter is easily done, no matter what the circumstances.

Tell them something as good as this is its own sweet thing, uniforms and allegiances be damned, and that, hokey as it sounds, you swear there was something inspiring, something we-can-put-a-man-on-the-moon inspiring about watching Rivera set 'em up and mow 'em down time and again.

Fifty pitches and three innings last Thursday night. Tell them that.

Tell them ...

He was too thin to do what he did.

He didn't have enough pitches to do what he did.

And he never, not once, looked as scared as he should have been.

You can't help but marvel at what Mo does with that thin wiry frame.
Say all that.

Try your hand as a poet, get all imagistic. Talk about scythes cutting rye in the dying light, about cobra strikes snapping the air, and fish flying lean and low above the waves.

Trot out some pop, too. Invoke Batman's sculpted blend of grace and oomph, or maybe the searing, straight-to-the-heart voice of Thom Yorke.

Then explain that while all this stuff dazzled you, made you tip your cap in Rivera's direction, it had seemed so automatic for so long that you had a hard time coming around to really caring about it.

And then, if you think you're up for it, describe him crying on the mound at the end of Game 7 the other night. Say he was in child's pose, like the yoga master he is, and that those shoulders that lock and launch missiles were just shaking skin and bone then. Say the floodgates were open and the rush of want, fear, need and courage that went into every pitch he'd thrown came down the hill in a torrent. Say you didn't just admire him then. Say you felt for him. Say he was mighty likeable right that minute, mighty and likeable.
[eric neel]
9:44 PM :: ::
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