For the New York Yankees’ ace closer Mariano Rivera, that person was Chico Heron, the scout who in 1990 spotted something in a 20-year-old kid from Panama who threw only 85 mph. Rivera, in return, saw a mentor in Heron.
“I loved that man,” Rivera says. “He used to tell me to work hard, be committed, be respectful, trust what you have and trust the Lord, be able to do it in tough situations. And he was always, constantly encouraging me to just do it, don’t give up.”
These traits will take anybody far, but they made Rivera the kind of closer who causes batters to curl up and die. Now he’s trying to instill the same air of invincibility in younger players.
Some of these characteristics:
- Caring. Rivera “cares about helping people, period,” says the Yanks’ general manager. Until Heron died last November, Rivera was able to call on him anytime, for anything. Now Rivera stands ready to help his teammates, which has elevated him to the same level of influence as captain Derek Jeter. The watchword: “If you need something, ask Mo.”
- Curiosity. When a reliever was called up from the minors last fall, Rivera startled him by asking a ton of questions about the AAA team. Rivera wanted to get a handle on the Yankees’ prospects, to gather intelligence.
- Strategic advice. Another new reliever, Joba Chamberlain, was spooked by Rivera’s accomplishments (“He’s won and lost some of the biggest games in the history of baseball”) and unable to duplicate the veteran’s cutter pitch, but he calmed down as Rivera continued to coach him.
He learned to pay attention in the early innings, watching for hitters’ strengths and weaknesses. He also learned by watching Rivera at work, how he’d muster all his resources.
- Perspective. Rivera keeps a cool head, win or lose. “You have to know how to control your emotions,” he says. “If you don’t control your emotions, your emotions will control your acts, and that’s not good.”