Mariano Rivera has never been one of my favorite people. After all, for many years he was a fixture for the New York Yankees, divisional rivals of my own Toronto Blue Jays. When a game came to the final inning and the Jays were down by a run or two, Rivera would jog onto the field and shut it down. Once he came onto the field, the outcome was rarely in doubt.
But he has retired now, and I like him a lot better. No sooner did he retire than he got to work penning his memoir, The Closer. It’s quite a story. Born in abject poverty in Panama, Rivera grew up in, on and around fishing boats, working with his father to scrape together a living. When the tides were out, he and his friends would play baseball on the beach, improvising the equipment they needed: wadded up fishing nets for balls, rocks for bases, tree branches for bats, and milk cartons for gloves. It was an unlikely start to one of the great baseball careers.
When he was in his late teens, Rivera began playing shortstop for a nearby amateur baseball team. One day the pitcher played so badly that Rivera was asked to take over for a couple of innings. The results were so impressive that friends contacted a scout for the New York Yankees. Rivera gained a try-out, then a minor league contract. And the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to become the most dominant closer in the history of the game, earning 652 saves in the biggest baseball market in the world. He was an All-Star 13 times, won 5 World Series, and was once the World Series MVP. He had a storybook career and through it became world famous and fantastically wealthy, with his earnings topping $150 million. He has come a long way from that fishing boat in Panama.
But there is more to his story than baseball. In his early twenties Rivera was exposed to the gospel and became a Christian—an unashamedly outspoken Christian. While the book describes his life, it also describes his faith and, to borrow a sport’s metaphor, he leaves it all on the field. He tells how important his faith has been, how it has sustained him, and how the Bible has given him guidance throughout his life.
The Bible can’t tell you the story of my walk with the Lord, but it can tell you everything about how I try to live, and why the love of the Lord is the foundation of my whole life. For me, the Bible is not just the word of God, but a life road map that is packed with wisdom that you cannot beat even if you spent the next hundred years reading spiritual books and self-help books. It is the best kind of wisdom: Simple wisdom. This sort of wisdom, from the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, verse twelve: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
When it comes to his faith, Rivera describes just what he believes and why he believes it. While it becomes clear that he loves the Lord, it also becomes clear that he is not a theologian. Unfortunately, a few of the things he says are unclear or confusing and probably owe more to Pentecostalism than to the historic Christian faith. And yet, again, it is clear that he is passionate about the Lord and the spread of the gospel. In the aftermath of his storied career he has both moved on and stayed just the same. “For the last nineteen seasons, the Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to play professional baseball for the New York Yankees. My job was to save games, and I loved every part of it. Now I have a new job—probably better described as a calling—and that is to glorify the Lord and praise His name, and show the wonders that await those who seek Him and want to experience His grace and peace and mercy.” To do this, he and his wife have co-founded a church where they serve as pastors.
As is the case with most sports memoirs, this one is dominated by descriptions of games and plays. Those who love sports, and who love the Yankees in particular, will find it riveting. Those who are a little less enthusiastic about sports may find themselves skimming over certain sections. And if you’re like me, you may find yourself silently finding yourself hoping he’ll lose the games, just because he’s pitching for New York. In any case, Rivera’s story is a good one and well worth reading.