NEW YORK - While many know Mariano Rivera as the legendary closer of the New York Yankees, post-career you can find the five-time World Series champion giving back to the community, often through his Mariano Rivera Foundation.
Recently I caught up with the Hall of Famer and 13-time All-Star to discuss how he is helping to make the holiday season for children in need a little brighter through his partnership with the Light the World Giving Machines program in New York City.
Of course, the conversation turned to the Yankees. While the interview took place just before the club introduced their newest ace, Carlos Rodón, rest assured Rivera had plenty to say about pitching — specifically the need for a deep bullpen.
Here is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
Why don't you tell us why it was so important to be involved with the giving machines?
RIVERA: First of all, we put the Giving Machine — let's say in New York City where if you wanted to donate something, especially at Christmas, donate to children, that's what Christmas is all about — giving back to the children — make sure that the children at least have a toy.
So you don't have to be looking for an entity or foundation or something. With the Giving Machine, you have items there you can pick and choose what you want to give out. And then that's what you give. You just pick and chose — you put your money into it and that's it — simple.
You know, I think that everybody had the opportunity to do that — it won't be a hassle. It will be something they're just running by and you see the machine, you approach the machine and you invest in the children.
So that's what it is all about, especially in times like this — Christmas. That's why I love it. That's why I'm passionate. That's why I believe in it. We need the people — fans in New York, Yankee fans, New Yorkers — to get involved.
You continuously give back to the community. What drives you to give back so much?
RIVERA: I remember where I came from. I didn't have nothing. What I have wasn't enough, but I was content and happy with it. But at least I have something. There are children that have nothing, OK? And they depend on us to have something at Christmas.
When I was able to come to New York and play for the New York Yankees and do all these things and make money, so you know what? We need to help others. The Lord has given me a good two hands and two good feet to work for those in need. So I will not stop. I've been fortunate but I remember where I came from where I had nothing.
I did want to ask you some Yankees questions. How important was it for the Yankees to sign Aaron Judge this off-season?
RIVERA: It was great. I think that's a good decision. Me as a fan, I'm happy with that — knowing that we will have Aaron for at least nine years. I think that he belongs to the Yankees. He belongs here in New York. I think that he was born to be a Yankee. And that's it. Some players are just born to be a dynasty — to be in one place only — and I believe that he's one of them.
What was your reaction to the contract?
RIVERA: I was happy. I said, "Finally it's done." I guarantee you that the New York Yankee fans were happy knowing that the boss was involved in it. That makes us feel good. Especially for me, being a Yankee for life is just something that you look forward to.
Does he remind you of anyone you played with — maybe even personality-wise — or his style of play?
RIVERA: He's a player of his own — power, he can run, he can throw, he can hit — great personality, you know? Good person. That's what I like. That's what I love about him, that he's a good boy. He has his head on his shoulders. And when you see a player like that, you'll be delighted to have him on your team. You want to have him as a teammate.
I was fortunate to see him when he came up as a rookie — when the Yankees just signed him — and knowing that he was learning from us was amazing. Now we see the fruits of our labor. So thank God for that and thank God the Yankees were able to keep him.
The Yankees had six All-Stars this year. You think about Nestor Cortez having that breakout year, Harrison Bader — local kid making some noise with the Yankees, and, of course, Oswaldo Cabrera, who had an incredible rookie debut. Who impressed you the most this year?
RIVERA: Cabrera was amazing. Nestor, he had a great year. Obviously, Aaron was amazing with the season he had. But to me, when you see a rookie like Cabrera playing the way he was playing and being devoted — being just sold out for the team — that's what you look for. Especially as a rookie, you look for those talents, you look for those guys with that poise. You know, they are poised in those situations, poised to be there, didn't matter where, but just to be there to help the team win.
This season coming up, 2023, it will be a special season for the New York Yankees. It will be something that I look forward to because we have a great team and again, you have good talent and rookie players that are eager for the season to start so they can prove they belong in the major leagues.
You were with the team when they last won the World Series. You said this is going to be a special year. What do you think the missing piece is?
RIVERA: It's not easy to win. You have to have a combination of everything. Pitching is always the name of the game — to me. I was a pitcher and, definitely, in the bullpen you need that strength, not only in the rotation, but in the bullpen.
So to me, we need to get pitching. We need to pitch. If we don't pitch, it don't matter how many hitters we have, because if we score 20 runs, they will score 21 runs. So always the name of the game is pitching.
You saw Houston — they won because they had pitching because — yeah, they put some runs on the board — but the pitching is the name of the game again.
We can't fall short in our pitching. We just have to continue pushing hard — the rookies, the veterans — everybody has to push hard to bring the championship back home. I believe that we are capable — that we have the team.
What was it like for you to see the Yankees kind of struggle down the stretch because they didn't have maybe a bona fide closer?
RIVERA: They have a lot of players that can close overall. This year at the end, the Yankees were going through tough times but they bounced back. And that's what it is all about. Every team goes through that.
But the Yankees went through it and looked horrible. I can never say that they weren't trying. I can never say that. They were trying, but it looks like they were trying too hard. I've been there. I've been there before, but the good thing about it is that they bounced back and that's what you look for in a team to bounce back.
Unfortunately, they lost in the end but they have the potential. There's no doubt about that. They have the potential — a good combination between veterans and rookies, young players.
We have to make sure that we have more than enough pitching — that's a good problem to have — when you have a lot of pitching.
I'm going to bring up a crosstown rival. The Mets had arguably one of the best closers in baseball this season. What'd you think of Edwin Diaz this year?
RIVERA: Edwin did a tremendous [job]. Edwin is capable to have seasons like that. The man was dominating the league this year. It's good to have that. It doesn't matter if it's Mets or whoever it is — you have to admire the ability that the player has to do that job. He had a tremendous season. But it's not only just one season — you have to continue. Anybody can have one, two, three seasons. You have to continue.
What was your reaction to people comparing his entrance song "Narco" to "Enter Sandman"?
RIVERA: There's no comparison. There's no comparison with that, you know? That song was there for 17 years and many championships. So there's no comparison.