A Weekend to Remember

The Sandman enters retirement as the all-time saves leader. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs
The Sandman enters retirement as the all-time saves leader. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Will Martin

Even with the playoffs about to commence later this week for Major League Baseball there is a sense of sadness among the purists who love the game as the field now becomes narrower.

One of the easiest determining factors about this time of the year is when you attend a day game. If you sit on the right field side of the park you get to enjoy a shady seat unlike from April-August.

Everything begins to loom larger as the hourglass of time winds down. The shadows extend across the playing field and can indeed be a pitcher’s best friend when you have a batter in the shade and a pitcher firing from the sun and vice versa.

When baseball season begins in April everything is beginning to bloom and you have a sense of youth and vitality for the game.

For 162 games you battle and fight for the right to get to the next level of the playoffs. The next tier, the new season, and what will become a sudden and violent end to the game and season.

That six month long first date now beckons you to go home and say goodnight until next March.

Over the course of many seasons which will indeed feel like a mere moment to the naked eye you come to appreciate the efforts and merits of players who are the rarity who stay in one spot for a whole career. That’s what made what happened the other night at Yankee Stadium so damn special. I could not stop tearing up.

In case you weren’t watching, there has been a victory tour of sorts for Mariano Rivera. The all-time saves leader, top notch reliever, revered and respected Yankee is retiring after this season along with Andy Pettite and (I am guessing) Derek Jeter will complete the triad in the Bronx. That last inning against the playoff bound Rays where Jeter and Andy came out to relieve Rivera made for an emotional moment.

For a moment as I began to cry I thought about how emotional Emmitt Smith got 10/27/02 when becoming the all-time NFL rusher. The tears were hot and heavy when Smith had a moment with Daryl Johnston. That stopped me in my tracks. That moment 11 years ago still seems like yesterday.

For the record there are a couple of players in the MLB who are leaving us when this season is over. I would be remiss if there wasn’t a moment given to the longtime Prince of Perseverance in Denver Colorado.

Todd Helton also leaves this grand old game after a wonderful 17-year career terrorizing the National League. Helton’s last game in Denver the other night was no less emotional than what we saw with Rivera and Pettite having a group hug.

It’s a part of the process. It’s a part of life. It’s a part of the progression one does when hopefully doing something they have loved for so long and can now move on to do other things with friends, family, and the like.

Baseball and sports is a thing for the young. The lifespan for a given athletes career varies from sport to sport. You surpass a 3-year career in the NFL you’ve done well. 5-7 in baseball I am told the pension plan is a good one. NHL it seems players go well into their forties due to a great work ethic from youth. Likewise in the NBA.

It’s no secret baseball has always been my first love. That being said here’s hoping the fans of the game realize the magnitude of the legacy that the aforementioned players have brought to the grand old game. Never again will anyone wear the number 42.

Mariano Rivera got to wear it alone for 17 years-no doubt with a smiling Jackie Robinson in heaven. Rivera got a wonderful sendoff this past weekend in Houston and ditto Todd Helton in Los Angeles.

Helton’s numbers are truly amazing. The ONLY player along with Stan Musial  to finish with at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and a career batting average of over .315! Ponder that for a moment. On that note imagine what Stan the Man might have done had he played in Colorado all these years…maybe not!

This weekend Peyton Manning will in all likelihood have a fun time playing the Eagles. Anyone else remember that prior to Peyton Manning being the QB at Tennessee there was a player before him who had to step aside due to injury? That person was Todd Helton! Need I say more? Thank you Todd!

From 1981-2003 there was rarely a time I didn’t follow the Yankees be it in Chicago, Anaheim, Portland, Seattle, or Arlington Texas. Everywhere you went half the crowd rooted for the Bronx Bombers. 1996 I saw Rivera up close for the first time in the Kingdome. Man, what stuff he possessed! When he ran from the bullpen to the mound you knew the game was over.

In the post-season and in the World Series he was just unstoppable. People forget he was originally a set up guy for John Wetteland. Ponder that for a moment. 1997 Wettelend came to Texas and Rivera made batters enjoy the smell of burnt wood when a sinker or fastball whizzed on by.

Yes, it’s true the Yankees season ended in Houston this Sunday. 2014 it will begin in Houston as well. You can expect some wonderful tributes to Mariano and Todd this weekend. Two guys who played the game the right way, with the right amount of exertion, youth, passion, enthusiasm, respect, integrity, even balance.

Two guys who even knew when it was time to walk away.

We say goodbye to September and hello to a new season. We also say goodbye to three more stellar achievers and look ahead to see which youngsters of today will be the legacy of a storied career tomorrow. Time will tell. Much like in 1983 when both Carl Yastrzemski and Carton Fisk said goodbye the cheers and the tears were long and real.

To an exciting finish in the A.L. Wild Card Race. Yes Rangers, even you too!