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The Last 42

Mariano Rivera

Earlier today, Mariano Rivera set the all-time saves record, eclipsing long-time San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman. Rivera, in his 16th season with the Yankees (and 15th as their closer), figures to add to it if he can stay healthy, and surely will be inducted into the Hall of Fame when he retires.

Now, I’m firmly in the ‘saves are overrated’ camp. All 27 outs in a game are equal, and it doesn’t make sense to save your best pitcher(s) for a hypothetical situation an inning or two ahead. But, that’s not Rivera’s call to make, and he’s done what has been asked of him at an elite level for a decade and a half. Even disregarding saves, Rivera has some impressive accomplishments:

– His career WHIP is 0.99, an incredible achievement. He also averages 8.2 KO/9.
– In his 16 years of relief pitching, he’s had a WHIP of 1.1 or greater only twice.
– In 94 career playoff games, he averages 7 KO/9, has an era of 0.71, and a WHIP of 0.766.
– He has appeared in at least 45 games every season since 1996, never missing a substantial part of any season. It’s rare for a pitcher to stay so (relatively) healthy so long.
– That consistency is remarkable. Anyone who plays fantasy baseball will tell you how erratic relievers are from year to year.
– His 94 career playoff games are roughly equivalent to adding a season and a half to his workload over 16 years. That he’s remained healthy and consistently excellent is also remarkable.

One of the neat things about Rivera is that he will be the last player to wear the number 42, Jackie Robinson’s number. In tribute to Robinson, MLB decided a number of years ago that every team would retire the number, meaning that no other player (except those wearing it at the time, who were grandfathered in), would ever wear it. Rivera is the last one, and his on-field impact is a fitting tribute to a man who wasn’t just a pioneer, but a great ballplayer.

As an aside, one of the things I enjoy about soccer is how certain jersey numbers carry a significance, and are considered an honor to wear. For example, goal scorers are issued the number 9 (Newcastle United calls it the Shirt of Legends), and the number 10 jersey is an honour reserved for playmakers and leaders on the field. Wouldn’t the ultimate tribute to Jackie Robinson be to do something similar with the number 42? That only players who had accomplished great things got to wear it? For example, in addition to Rivera, the Cardinals could have Pujols wear 42, Roy Halladay would be Philly’s 42, and there would be discussion right now about whether Justin Verlander deserved the #42 jersey. It would also make for a fun term when discussing truly great players, arguing whether or not a player was a ’42’. Anyway, I digress.

I’ve appreciated Rivera’s talent and performance since he broke into the majors. The first time I saw him was in a relief appearance in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, when he toyed with Seattle Mariners hitters and pitched 3.1 scoreless innings. He’s been a part of some of the most memorable moments of the past 15 years, amazingly in a losing role for some. He blew a save in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, which seemed unfathomable at the time. As a Red Sox fan, I have fond memories of him giving up the tying runs in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing him pitch in person. I caught a Yankees-Mariners series at Safeco Field in 2009. Seeing Rivera warm up then walk in from the bullpen gave me chills. Later in that series, he was part of a great moment at the ballpark.

One of the things I enjoy most about seeing games live is the little things television doesn’t pick up. Watching players (teammates and opponents) interact, the way players move and shift defensively, and seeing the impressive feats some can pull off in batting practice are a highlight of any visit to the park. After the Sunday afternoon game, where the Mariners won comfortably. After the game, all the unused relief pitchers (including Rivera) left the bullpens and walked back towards their dugouts. Along the way, the Mariners bullpen stopped Rivera, surrounding him and chatting with him for a few minutes:

Rivera and Mariners Bullpen

I can only imagine what they asked him, but this gesture struck me as the ultimate sign of respect. There would only be a handful of players who would be treated in this way. When I think of Rivera and his achievements, the numbers come to mind, and tell most of the story. But the reaction of a handful of opponents, the last, and one of the best to wear number 42, says a lot about what he means and what he’s accomplished too.

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4 Days at Safeco

Safeco Field, view from the Left Field entrance.

Safeco Field, view from the Left Field entrance.

As part of my trip to Seattle, I visited Safeco Field to catch some baseball. The New York Yankees were in town to play the host Seattle Mariners from Thursday to Sunday, and I caught all four games between the two teams.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then my photo gallery from the games tells the full story in 315,000 words. I recommend you check it out. What follows here is a much-abridged summary.

The Games
In case you’re curious, the Yankees won the first one in a blowout, earned hard-fought wins in the second and third, then the Mariners stormed back to win the final game of the series. The roof was closed for the first one (it had rained heavily earlier that day), but we had great weather for the rest of the series, so the roof was open. The games (and the city as a whole) were flooded with Yankees fans for the whole weekend. You couldn’t go anywhere inside the park, or outside of it without seeing Yankees apparel.

The Area
Safeco Field is located near the central district of Seattle. It’s situated south of the King Street Amtrak station and Pioneer Square, and just to the west of the International District. Qwest Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC, is directly north of Safeco. The surrounding freeways and railway lines isolate the park somewhat from the surrounding areas, making it tough to tell what, if any, impact it has had on redevelopment in the area. There is the Silver Cloud Hotel across the street, and up the street parallel to Qwest Field and the parking lot between Qwest and the Amtrak station there are refurbished warehouses and infill developments.

The Park
For better and worse, Safeco Field has most of the trappings of the post-Camden Yards ballparks.

First, the good. The brick exterior adds a nice retro touch (it’s designed to mirror Ebbets Field), and also meshes with the character of the surrounding area. Like most of the new parks, the sightlines are excellent, and most seats offer an unobstructed view of the field. There are a ton of food options, everything from hotdogs to sushi. I’m partial to the garlic fries from Grounders’. Also, there is one beer stand that offers imports/microbrews at a reasonable price. I indulged in Bard’s gluten-free beer, which was a pleasant surprise to find.

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees pitches to the Mariners.

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees pitches to the Mariners.

Leaving aside the constant gimmickry with attempts to rally fans on the video screen and through music, my main criticism of Safeco is that it feels like I could be watching a game….well, anywhere. There are a couple of nice touches that distinguish the park. First, from the first base side you get a nice view of the downtown Seattle skyline. Second, the adjacent railroad lines mean you hear a constant (and I mean constant – about every 5 minutes) honking of horns from railway engines as they arrive at or depart from the King Street station. But beyond that, the park itself feels like it could be anywhere. The other post-Camden park I’ve visited is Citizens’ Bank Ballpark, in Philadelphia. It’s also a great place to watch a game, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what distinguishes the two once you’re inside and watching a game. Safeco has a retractable roof, while Citizens’ Bank is open air. I guess that would be it.

Final Thoughts
For all my criticisms in the last paragraph, on the whole the experience was really enjoyable. As a huge baseball fan, I’d probably enjoy watching a game anywhere – I even have fond memories of the Big O. Nonetheless, Safeco is a very nice park, and offers a good atmosphere for watching baseball.