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Rivera became our Joe D

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published September 29. 2013 4:00AM

New York

There are times in your life you wonder: How are you going to explain this to your kids? How can you convey, with even a hint of coherence, the shapes and forms of what became a timeless moment? Where are the words to express the elemental thought: I was lucky to have been in that place at that time and here is every detail, because you need to know them.

A few days have passed now since Mariano Rivera wore the Pinstripes for the last time. The hope: Time's passage would spin a whipped up version of instant history into a clearer narrative. The reality: No such luck. The mind and heart do not quickly demobilize.

I guess we begin here: There is a reason Hemingway made room for the "Great DiMaggio" line in the Old Man and the Sea. Joe D's transcendent grace belied an occupation often defined by seed-spitting, gum-chewing and scratching on camera. Joe D had an unspoken grace that helps illustrate, again, baseball's inimitable knack for connecting generations.

Mariano Rivera became our DiMaggio.

Fittingly, this was among the snapshots at the Stadium the other night: A fan sported a sign, "I want to thank the Good Lord for making Mo a Yankee." It is a line DiMaggio almost uttered once, if you substitute the "Mo" for "me." The fan's sign was written in the same font as DiMaggio's timeless quote that adorns the walls of the home clubhouse.

He became our DiMaggio. And not for a save record that will be as hard to break as the 56-game hit streak. But because of Rivera's grace.

And that's what I'd want my son to know. Mariano Rivera's reaction to his achievements dwarf the achievements. He was an understated, humble man to the end when he the left the mound for the final time sobbing. His 652 saves, 82 wins and trots from the bullpen to Metallica never embarrassed or belittled anyone, instead dignifying the uniform and the brand. He never gyrated like Gomer Papelbon or shot fake arrows into the sky like the immortal Fernando Rodney.

Rivera's comportment reinforced the time-honored ballplayer canon of acting as if you'd been there before. And he'd been there 652 times.

That's what you remember. How should you act on the field? Ask: What would Mo do? How should you act off the field? Ask: What would Mo do? Do your job, shake hands, commend others. On the rare nights the other guys win, tip your cap, accept responsibility, get 'em tomorrow.

That's what you remember.

As was the case with Michael Jordan, though, my fear is they'll all miss the point. They emulate Jordan today with snazzy sneakers and stuck-out tongues. If they really want to emulate Jordan though, they'd become the meanest, fiercest competitors every single day. That was Michael Jordan. His out-of-this-universe talent was a convenient accessory.

Years from now, I'll tell the story that I was there the very last time Mo Rivera threw a pitch at Yankee Stadium. I'm sure I'll get inundated with stats and accomplishments, too:

Six-hundred, fifty-two saves.

Eighty-two wins.

Part of 13 division championship teams, seven American League championship teams and five World Series champions in 19 years. After your family, there is nobody else in the history of the world who brought more joy to the lives of Yankee fans. Think about it. His 82 wins and 652 saves made it a better day 734 times.

Do you know anybody else in your life who has made you happy 734 different times?

Author Jonathan Franzen once wrote this about sports: "fans need to feel uniquely connected to the object of their fandom." Beautiful. And who else provided an easier connection than Mariano Rivera, a regular guy with the extraordinary resume and deferential demeanor?

Rivera's exit provided a fitting, if not eerie, symbol for a new chapter in Yankeedom. This 19-year run is over. The sheriff has left town. Those of us with an emotional attachment should be comforted by the everlasting shelf life of memories. And in our own lives, we'd all do better to remember Rivera for the way he carried himself all those years he was carrying the Yankees.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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