Childhood & Early Life
Mariano Rivera was born on November 29, 1969, in Panama City, Panama, in the family of Mariano Rivera Palacios and Delia Jiron. His father was captain of a fishing boat. He grew up with elder sister Delia and younger brothers, Alvaro and Giraldo in Puerto Caimito.
At the time of low tides, Mariano would play soccer, his favourite sport, as also baseball with friends on the beach. Sans a baseball or any regular baseball equipment, the youngsters played the game with makeshift equipment like using tree branches for bats and cardboard milk cartons for gloves. Mariano got his first leather glove from his father at age 12.
He attended Escuela Victoriano Chacón and thereafter La Escuela Secundaria Pedro Pablo Sanchez but left school in the ninth grade. He learnt fishing trade for three years starting from age 16.
At around age 17, Mariano suffered from several ankle and knee injuries that led him to quit playing soccer. He continued playing baseball which was more of a hobby to him.
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Minor Leagues Career
He became a utility player of the local amateur baseball team, Panamá Oeste Vaqueros at age 18 and caught attention after pitching well replacing Panamá Oeste's pitcher in a 1989 game.
Hearing about the young talent, Yankees scout Chico Heron invited Mariano in a Yankees tryout camp in Panama City. Scout Herb Raybourn was in Panama at that time. He earlier watched Mariano play in a 1988 baseball tournament in shortstop position. This time Raybourn was impressed by the effortless pitching motion of Mariano leading him to sign contract with the Yankees organization on February 17, 1990.
Mariano relocated to the US and joined the Rookie League affiliate of New York Yankees, the Gulf Coast League Yankees. He performed well as relief pitcher in the 1990 season and was elevated to the Class A level Greensboro Hornets of the South Atlantic League in 1991. The following year he was promoted to the Class A-Advanced level Fort Lauderdale Yankees, a member of the Florida State League.
Eventually, he was elevated from the Class A-Advanced level Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League to the Double-A level Albany-Colonie Yankees that is part of the Eastern League in 1994. Later that year he was promoted to the Triple-A level Columbus Clippers of the International League.
Major Leagues Career
Mariano made his MLB debut for the New York Yankees against the California Angels on May 23, 1995. He pitched 5 1⁄3 scoreless innings of relief during the 1995 American League Division Series leading Yankees management to decide to turn him into a relief pitcher in the next season.
He mainly played as a setup pitcher in 1996 and made his first career save in a game against the Angels on May 17 that year. He completed the season setting a single-season record for the Yankees garnering 130 strikeouts as a reliever. He aided the Yankees in winning the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. Moving on he won four more World Series’ with the team including in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.
He was made the Yankees' closer in 1997. That year he won his first All-Star selection and starting from the 1997 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Mariano appeared in twelve more All-Star games in 1999 to 2002, 2004 to 2006, 2008 to 2011 and lastly in 2013.
With time he emerged as one of the key contributors to the success of the Yankees in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Yankee Stadium scoreboard production staff started playing the Metallica band song ‘Enter Sandman’ in summer 1999 as entrance music of Mariano whose nickname is ‘Mo’ and ‘Sandman’. In no time the song became part of his identity as a closer. That year Mariano won his only Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award apart from his first AL Rolaids Relief Man Award that he won again in 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2009.
He was named in the list of annual leaders in saves in MLB thrice in 1999, 2001 and 2004. On May 9, 2002, he became Yankees' franchise leader in saves with 225th career save, surpassing record of Dave Righetti.
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In 2003 he received the League Championship Series Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for recording two saves and a win in the 2003 AL Championship Series.
He became the highest-paid reliever in the game’s history after signing three-year, $45 million contract with the team post 2007 season.
On March 9, 2013, he announced that he would retire post the 2013 season. That year he won the Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award, All-Star Game MVP Award, Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award, Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award and Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Mariano achieved several MLB records. These include garnering regular season Most career saves (652); Most career games finished (952); and Highest career adjusted ERA+ (minimum 1,000 innings pitched), 205 among others. He excelled in postseason as well and holds several records including garnering lowest career ERA (minimum 30 innings pitched) (0.70); most successive scoreless innings pitched (33 1⁄3); and most saves (42).
His regular season Yankees records include Most career games pitched (1115); Most saves in single season (53 in 2004); and Highest career wins above replacement for a pitcher (56.3) among other accomplishments.
Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg declared September 22, 2013 as "Mariano Rivera Day" while the Yankees paid Mariano a 50-minute pre-game tribute at Yankee Stadium. The team also honoured him by retiring his uniform number 42. He made his last MLB appearance on September 26, that year, for Yankees against Tampa Bay Rays at the Yankee Stadium. He concluded his professional baseball career with MLB statistics of 82–60 win–loss record, 2.21 Earned run average, 1,173 Strikeouts, 652 Saves and 1.00 WHIP.
The Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award was named after him by MLB in 2014. Same year in May, a section of River Avenue bordering Yankee Stadium at 161st Street was renamed after him as ‘Rivera Avenue’.
On January 22, 2019, BBWAA elected Mariano to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He garnered 100% vote emerging as the first player ever in history of major league to get elected unanimously.
Works, Honours & Achievements
Post retirement from baseball, Mariano has devoted his time in philanthropy and funding church start-ups in Panama, California, Florida, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. He also opened a church named Refugio de Esperanza ("Refuge of Hope") in New Rochelle in March 2014.
His philanthropic endeavours include forming the Mariano Rivera Foundation that focus on providing education to youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds to empower them for the future. He received a Jefferson Award for Public Service and the ROBIE Humanitarian Award from the Jackie Robinson Foundation in March 2014 for his philanthropic efforts.
On May 6, 2014, he released his autobiography ‘The Closer: My Story’, co-authored with Wayne Coffey. On May 21 same year he was conferred with honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by New York University.
He was inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence at the 2015 Little League World Series. On August 14, 2016, a plaque was dedicated to Mariano by the Yankees in Monument Park, Yankee Stadium.
He was nominated to co-chair the American government organization, President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition, in May 2018.
Family & Personal Life
On November 9, 1991, Mariano married Clara, who he knew since elementary school. They are blessed with three sons, Mariano III, Jafet, and Jaziel. In October 2015, Mariano became a naturalized citizen of the US. A devout Christian, Mariano converted from Catholicism to a Pentecostal faith.