There's a lot of different things that can happen when the truly great players retire. They get their numbers retired, they get streets or parts of stadiums dedicated to them, fans name their children after them, etc. But it takes a special type of player to encourage two professional teams to hop on a plane and fly down to your native country and play a set of games in the middle of Spring Training. That's exactly the case for the Yankees and the Florida Marlins, who will play a pair of games at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City on a field adorned with Mariano Rivera's iconic number 42. The two games are technically being referred to as a part of"The Legends Series", but it's The Mariano Classic for all intents and purposes.
For a man renowned for his humble nature, it probably doesn't matter much to Rivera that this series exists primarily due to his amazing career and universal popularity. The important thing is that a dream of his that formed as far back as 1998 has come true: the Yankees will be playing in his beloved Panama. So important is this weekend to him that he was touring the stadium like an amateur architect, looking to make sure that parking problems from the World Baseball Classic had been remedied. In addition to the two games, there have been various events generating money for Mariano's charity, The Mariano Rivera Foundation. So it's not just good baseball, it's for a good cause.
The Panamanian people should be in for a treat, as future fellow Hall of Famer Derek Jeter made the trip, along with Mo's heir apparent David Robertson, CC Sabathia and other stars. And if Mariano wants to give CC a few more pointers on that new cutter of his before his Sunday start, we would certainly would appreciate it. For the Marlins, man-beast Giancarlo Stanton made the trip. So the fans might be in for a nice home run ball, as long as they don't mind running 500 feet to go get it. Combine that with the excitement I'm sure the baseball-hungry crowd will generate and it should be quite compelling for two Spring Training games.
It's definitely going to be strange to see Mariano Rivera: baseball diplomat. It's the first chapter in a season that will be filled with moments of longing for Mo to don the pinstripes one more time. So be ready for two days of nostalgia as clips of Mariano's greatest hits get played in between the action and you start to wish it were 1998 all over again. It should be fun, and it certainly raises the bar for Derek Jeter's goodbye to baseball. A farewell tour is one thing, but a weekend of baseball in your honor is as impressive as it gets. Maybe Derek can convince the Yankees to come to Kalamazoo next year.
As a bonus, here's a quote from Mariano that's sure to get you right in your pinstriped hearts:
"I'm not on the 25-man roster anymore, but my heart will always be with the Yankees,"
Gotta love that guy.