Richard Gere Interviews Mariano Rivera
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New York has the world’s finest art galleries, restaurants, and theaters, but best of all, it is home to the New York Yankees. All one needs to do to capture the soul of the city is go to a game where a Mariano Rivera pitch in the ninth inning can be as captivating as the last, lingering note of the New York Philharmonic.
As Rivera enters the second year of a two-year, $30 million contract, he is ignoring retirement talk and focusing on his 17th year in pinstripes. Just after our February visit to Tampa, Rivera threw two scoreless appearances—a further demonstration of his competitive nature. Here, actor and lifelong Yankees fan Richard Gere—who threw the first pitch to open the Yankees’ spring training in 2011 and requested Rivera’s autograph for his son Homer, a Little League pitcher—interviews Rivera exclusively for Gotham as he aims to add to his MLB-record 603 saves and secure another World Series title. Will this be the season Rivera puts jersey number 42 permanently into retirement? No matter what he decides, it’s just a matter of time until Rivera takes his next position—in the Hall of Fame.
RICHARD GERE: The interviews you’re giving make it sound like you’re retiring after this year.
MARIANO RIVERA: Richard, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you one thing: It’s been a great journey, but I do miss my kids a lot. It’s hard seeing your kids, then you’re separated for a few weeks, but at the same time you have your passion, your love for the game, that drive that’s always there. New York has been a blessing for me and my family. But it’s a decision to be made, and hopefully we made the best one for everyone.
RG: It’s not just New York that loves you; it’s all of baseball. Other pitchers and other relievers, like [retired Hall of Fame closer] Dennis Eckersley, these guys all freely say that you are the best. It’s very rare to see that kind of generosity from people you are competitive with.
MR: I know, it’s amazing, but I never feel like I have done anything. When people say that, it makes me uncomfortable because I’m not that kind of person. I just go out there and try to do my job.
RG: Do you feel that “Mariano” is gone when you’re in your space on the mound?
MR: I don’t feel that Mariano has gone, I feel like it’s just me and the catcher—I don’t even see the hitter. I feel like everything is gone—the noise, the fans. I’m in kind of like a tube, and it’s the catcher and me. There’s nothing that can take me away from that peace. I told the guys, and they said, “You don’t hear anything?” I said, no, I don’t hear, I don’t see. I have friends that have told me they were right there, above our dugout. They are sad because I ignore them. I say, no, it’s not that I ignore you. I’m so locked in that I don’t see you, and that will happen again, so don’t get mad at me.
RG: Do you go through any kind of conscious mental routine to get yourself into that space, or is it totally natural at this point?
MR: No, all I do is pray. Every time before I throw my first pitch, I am praying. And not only that, in the bullpen I am praying. I know there are millions of people praying for me, and I strongly believe in prayers. I know who I am, I know what I am capable of, I know who I trust. I don’t have control over everything; God has control over everything and I trust him, so I don’t worry.
RG: I’ve watched you pitch many, many times, and as everyone knows, 99 percent of the time you succeed, but one percent of the time you don’t. The way you deal with the blown save is the difference between you and most players. The mental strength that you have to let it go, to keep your mind clean, and start fresh every time—how are you able to do that?
MR: I learned early in my life that sometimes I’m going to lose. I don’t like it, but I accept it, meaning that I understand it’s going to happen. But I don’t see it like defeat; I see it like a learning process. Then if there’s nothing to learn, I move on. I’m going to give you a good example. It’s a big one, but it’s good. It’s the World Series, 2001, Game 7. We were winning by one run in the ninth inning against Arizona. I’m going out for my second inning, and we lost the game. I was sitting there in my locker and I wouldn’t say I was devastated, but I was hurt. But I accepted it. I remember that Mr. George Steinbrenner was there, and I looked into his eyes and said, “Boss, I did my best; my best wasn’t enough today.” And he just hugged me and he said, “You’re okay, son.”
RG: Was that the hardest one to deal with?
MR: The hardest one was ’97 because we lost the playoffs against Cleveland. I didn’t lose the game, but I gave up the home run to tie to Sandy Alomar. To overcome that I spent a few weeks thinking I should have done better.
photography by peter yang; Styling by Rebecca Malinsky; Grooming by Kristen Nugent/Zenobia Agency; Shot on location at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida