Sunday, September 29, 2013

Exit: Sandman and Spiritual Southpaw Part 1

It doesn't happen often, but I love it when I read an article or a book and something prompts me to laugh out loud. Perhaps it is because the silence of reading isn't the medium by which I expect to find humor. I almost find myself looking around to see if people anyone else laughing too? Humor is social and needs to be shared. And as much as I love finding a good laugh in literature, a big part of me loves to be brought to tears, too. In this week alone, two tributes to two gentlemen in baseball has done just that.
I read the Sports Illustrated tribute to the great Mariano Rivera, "Exit Sandman" while on the plane coming home from Notre Dame. I couldn't turn off the waterworks. In this instance, I didn't look around to see if the man next to me was crying too. I was trying to dry my tears as quickly as possible and yet, I wanted to let them flood the cattle car. I wanted others to know about Mo. I hadn't thought that this tender emotion was social. In this instance, there's no question it was.

Tom Verducci, the author of "Exit Sandman" and one of my favorite writers, used the cover story to commence "the oral history" of the 43-year old pitcher (44 in just two months!). Joe Torre said "Probably not since Koufax have we seen anyone leave the game with so much respect." It captures why the son of a Panamanian fisherman is so beloved. And it illustrates  what I believe the motto AMDG—for the greater glory of God—means; a motto that is ascribed to the uniforms of all the athletes at St. Ignatius.

Mottos and acronyms are pointless unless they are connected with a person or an experience that gives flesh to the ideal. Rivera's former teammates, coaches and managers capture through personal testimony his talent and more importantly, his spirit. The two I have featured below reveal the very prayer of St. Ignatius, known as "The Prayer of Generosity." And, as we let the Sandman exit, we know what the greater glory of God can do—on a baseball diamond and beyond.

Enjoy...and although their egos would allow for both of them to appear on the same posting, this one will focus on #42. The Spiritual Southpaw: Barry Zito is tomorrow....

Both men debuted in 1995 and have remained teammates for 19 seasons!
Dr. Fran Pirozzolo, psychologist, Yankees mental-skills coach from 1996 to 2002: I have worked with elite performers ranging from Navy SEALs, U.S. Secret Service, NASA astronauts, to athletes. Mariano Rivera may be the single most impressive performer and leader I have ever known. He is the exemplar that I point to when I discuss the mental attributes of champions. If we accept that an operational definition of leadership is the effect you have on others around you, then Mo rates among the most powerful leaders in any domain.

Most of us have deployed all of our attention to ourselves and to our own needs, with little left over for the needs of others. Mo has a presence that creates an atmosphere of teamwork, of an impossibly high regard for the integrity and worth of the people around him.
Rivera has received retirement gifts from every MLB team. He has also given gifts to those in every park, beyond his gift of pitching.
Rivera thought about retiring last season, but when he blew out his knee shagging batting practice fly balls in Kansas City on May 3, 2012, he vowed he would not leave baseball on the back of a cart. Knowing this would be his final season, he approached Zillo with an idea: In each road city he wanted to personally meet "behind-the-scenes" people who had dedicated their lives to baseball or had known illness or tragedy. While baseball wanted to say goodbye to Rivera, with the attendant going-away gifts and photo ops, Rivera wanted to say goodbye to baseball, which for him meant all the people who toil in anonymity.

On May 11, Rivera met Ryan Bresette, his wife, Heather, and their three sons, Joe, 13, Sam, 9, and Tyler, 6, in the media room at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. (The Bresettes' daughter, Anna, 14, was unable to attend the pregame gathering because of a soccer game.) Bresette worked as a clubhouse attendant for the Royals from 1982 to '94 and had never met Rivera.

On March 22 the Bresettes, while returning home from a vacation in Florida, had been standing next to a mammoth flight-status display board in the -Birmingham, Ala., airport when the board, estimated to weigh more than 300 pounds, fell on the family. Luke Bresette, their 10-year-old son, was killed. Heather suffered two broken legs. Sam suffered a broken leg and head injuries.

As evidenced by the Bresette family
baseball can bring joy to our lives.
Ryan Bresette: It was only seven or eight weeks out from the accident. My wife was in a wheelchair. Getting around was difficult. But we decided this would be a huge bright spot. It was an opportunity to put smiles on our kids' faces, which is the Number 1 priority in our lives. It was three or four hours before the game, and there were probably three or four other families there. Mariano came in and just lit up the room. That big smile, the bright eyes. . . .

People started talking and introducing themselves. I said, "We're the family involved in the Birmingham, Alabama, accident and lost our son."

He said, "I know. God bless you." I started to get emotional and couldn't talk anymore. My wife took over and said, "Luke would have loved this. Luke loved baseball. He loved all sports, but baseball was his very favorite sport." And then she started to get choked up.
Then our son Joe blurts out, "But Luke hated the Yankees!" The room erupted with laughter. Mariano just loved it. It broke the ice and the tension in the room.

Mariano addressed each one of our children and said, "Luke will always be with you. There is a plan for everything. We don't always know what it is, but we have to keep putting one step forward at a time. My situation is nowhere near what you are going through. I had an injury right here in Kansas City and overcame it to play again. My only message is you have to keep on trying and keep on giving effort."

I just asked my wife, "What would you want to say about what that day was like?" She said, "Mariano provided hope and inspiration at a time when they needed it the most." The best part, and it never made the papers, was after the meet and greet was over my nine-year-old said, "Mariano, if you pitch tonight, would you give me the ball from the last out?" Mariano looked at him and said, "You got it. It's yours."

Our seats were all the way in rightfield behind the foul pole, to accommodate the wheelchair. Mariano came in to pitch the ninth. By the time we packed up, with three kids and a wheelchair, I said, "We're never going to make it around the concourse [to the Yankees' dugout]. Let's just go home."

I'm literally pulling out of our parking spot when I get a call from the Royals. They ask, "Can you come back in?" I said, "Why?" They said, "As soon as Mariano got into the dugout his first question was, 'Where is the family I promised the ball to?' "

The Royals meet us, and they take us to the clubhouse level. Mariano comes out and says, "Sam, what did you ask me before the game?" Before he answered I said to myself, He remembers Sam's name!

Sam answers, "If you pitched would you give me the ball from the last out?"

Mariano says, "That's right." He opens up a bag and says, "Here it is." You could tell by the sticker on it. It had been authenticated by MLB. I just looked at Mariano and I said, "Thank you very much. You have no idea how much this means."

About six weeks later I got a call from [the Royals]. It had dawned on Mariano that he had not autographed the baseball. They put me in contact with a lady from his charitable foundation. Mariano wanted me to send the ball back to him so he could sign it and send it back.

This is something I haven't told too many people. When Mariano came over to me, I stuck out my hand to shake his hand, and he gave me a hug, pulled me close and whispered in my ear, "You're a stronger and braver man than I ever could be."

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous; 
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will.

St. Ignatius--pray for us.
Mariano Rivera--Thank you.

Photo Credits
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