Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Magnitude Of Mariano

How important can the third inning of a Spring Training game be?

Try a simple experiment.

Recall how you felt on June 2, 2006. If you need a little help, that was the day after Mariano Rivera had back spasms while tying his shoes.

My memory is eerily clear. I sat in coffee shop staring at a heaping plate of eggs, rice and beans. I remember the newspaper stories that detailed how Rivera walked gingerly out of the clubhouse and how Mike Myers had to carry his bag.

I felt sick.

So how important can the third inning of a Spring Training game be?

It is most important when Rivera is making his first spring appearance.

Thousands of New Yorkers broke away from work and gathered around televisions.

“He looks good,” everyone said.

Rivera threw 13 pitches and struck out two in a perfect inning. The last out came on a bouncer back to the mound that he easily grabbed and tossed to first.

“Yes, very good,” they smiled.

It’s not that people didn’t care about the pitchers that followed – Steven Jackson, Chris Britton, Tyler Clippard, Scott Proctor and Ron Villone – or about Bronson Sardinha hitting a two-run homer to win the game. It’s just that everyone cares a lot for Rivera and understands his importance.

“We ain’t goin’ anywhere without him,” a man said.

And we know we're lucky to have him.

Roger Clemens once challenged a group of reporters. “Any of you can pick your two favorite superheroes and I’ll put Rivera up against both of them.”

Batman and Superman against Rivera? No contest.

That’s how important the third inning of a Spring Training game can be.

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