Richard Gere Interviews Mariano Rivera
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RG: This might have been one of the first times you were away from home.
MR: It was the first time ever in my life that I left Panama. The language, it was a giant for me. My first year, when I was in Tampa, my second year in North Carolina, it was no English. I cried, because I couldn’t communicate with my teammates, with my pitching coordinator, my manager—I was frustrated.
RG: You were a fisherman’s son, and you lived in this very poor but very beautiful little fishing village. What was it like growing up there?
MR: Puerto Caimito was a wonderful village— white sand, a nice breeze, sun, mango trees, the people were gentle and friendly. We didn’t have much, but everybody knew each other and we helped each other. My mother worked with us, taking care of the kids and the house. My father fished and brought food to the table. We didn’t have much, but whatever we had we were happy with. I wouldn’t change it for anything. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change it.
RG: Describing your mother and father, what are the pieces of your mother that you are? The pieces of your father that you are?
MR: The piece of my mother, I have the gentleness, the worries, making sure everybody is okay. Then my father’s side is the one that wants to protect, that no matter how long it took to catch that fish, he would get it done. From my father’s side I got the strength, the mental toughness, the heart, the courage. But my grandfather from my mother’s side was the person that really, really, put a lot on me, because he always was around me. He worked a lot with sugarcane, and he used to make charcoal. He would go to the—I don’t call it the jungle, we call it manglares— where you go and cut the trees. It was a lot of work, a lot of work, but my grandfather was gentle, he was careful.
RG: You came up through the organization as a starting pitcher and didn’t have a great time of it, so they made you a long reliever. When they moved you up to be the setup man, did you feel that was going to be your career, in that spot?
MR: When they made me a setup man, I felt comfortable. I was happy because we accomplished something that every major league player wants to, and that’s winning the World Series. I was assuming that I would be doing exactly the same the following year.
RG: They felt strongly enough about you that they let [closer John] Wetteland go.
MR: Oh my God, Richard, to me that was a crazy move. When I found out that they didn’t sign Wetteland, my first question was, well, okay, who is going to close?
RG: It didn’t occur to you that it would be you.
MR: Never, never, never. It never went through my mind.
RG: Do you remember how much money you were making in the very beginning? When you first started with the Yankees?
MR: In the minors, I wasn’t making anything. I was making, like, [between] $400 a month and $800, something like that. I got to the big leagues and I started to make a little bit of money. I think the minimum was $109,000 at the time.
RG: That was a huge amount of money for you.
MR: In my little mind, Richard, I thought if I played five, six, seven years in the big leagues making this kind of money, I’m okay. I’m set.
RG: What did you do with that first money you made?
MR: I saved it. I saved everything. I was living with my mother-in-law at the time, but I was saving money. I had the opportunity to build a small house for me and my wife and my kids.
RG: When did you and your wife start The Mariano Rivera Foundation, which does community outreach in Panama and New York?
MR: The foundation started like this. We were making good money. Whatever I made was tithed to a church I was a member of—10 percent of my salary. I was giving a lot of money, so I decided to put this into a fund so we could help many churches, many people, in need. The foundation was just private—my wife and I, we did it alone.
RG: Now you’re partnering with The Guidance Center in Westchester, giving out food for kids?
MR: Yes, but the biggest is—and this is where my heart and soul is—that I wanted to help the young kids who have a lot of talent. Not necessarily the A-plus students, but I would say the B students that have tremendous talent but don’t have tremendous opportunities because those go to the A-plus students. I was one of these kids—I didn’t have much, but I had opportunities, and thank God I took advantage of them. But many of these kids don’t have the same opportunities. I want to be able to help these kids go through college and be good leaders in the community.
RG: I hope the Yankees are helping you with that too.
MR: [Laughs] They are, they are. A lot of people are.
RG: I know the Yankees are very, very generous that way.
MR: I think that Mr. George, I learned a lot from that man. That man always was giving, and he didn’t want anyone to know. That was the most important thing to me—that he didn’t want anyone to know. That man, to me... was one of the best.
RG: What are the Yankees like without him?
MR: His presence is definitely missed. The Yankees are trying to do the best, but he was the New York Yankees. We definitely, definitely miss Mr. George.
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