From the time he began his career in Major League Baseball, Mariano has never failed to awe the audiences with his spectacular performances and amazing ‘almost-impossible’ saves from time to time. Mariano has for several times received recognitions aside from his championships: Mariano is a five-time Rolaids Relief Man awardee, a three time Delivery Man of the Year awardee, and has received the World Series and AL Championship Series MVP Awards.
Mariano is highly regarded to be one of the most dominant relievers in baseball history because of his remarkable pitching abilities; Mariano’s pitching style has been described with having a further longevity and consistency that is uncommon for most closers. Aside from this, Mariano is known to be quite the contrast of the common attitude of the pitcher—while most pitchers are effusive in their way of pitching, Mariano is known to have composure and has a relaxed demeanour whenever he pitches.
One of the greatest assets that has made Mariano the champion he is today is his attitude towards losing. Throughout his career in the MLB and in his life overall, Mariano has experienced several losing situations, but he has never once allowed himself to sulk and despair and throw in the towel. Do you know why? Because for Mariano, to lose does not mean to get defeated—it simply means that you made a mistake and it is a good way to learn how to do it better the next time.
Mariano talks about this in an interview:
“I learned early in my life that sometimes I’m going to lose. I don’t like it, but I accept it, meaning that I understand it’s going to happen. But I don’t see it like defeat; I see it like a learning process. Then if there’s nothing to learn, I move on. One good example was when we lost the World Series, 2001, Game 7. I was sitting there in my locker and I wouldn’t say I was devastated, but I was hurt. But I accepted it.”
Ever since he was young, Mariano has always been competitive in a lot of things. This healthy competitive spirit is what enables him to rise back up whenever he falls; his bounce-back attitude has served him very well throughout his life and career, because it prevents him from being depressed over the disappointments that he encounters from time to time. As Mariano says it:
“Ever since I was a little kid, I was competitive. I never give up. If you beat me, you have to beat me one, three, four, five times, and I still don’t give up.”
But aside from all of the positive things that one can say about Mariano, it is his unwavering faith in God that really makes him stand out. Mariano is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, and has never been ashamed to publicly declare his faith. In fact, in all of his accomplishments and feats, Mariano never forgets to give all glory to God, whom Mariano believes to be the very reason why he is where he is today. In an interview, Mariano says:
“Everything starts with God in my career and it will finish with God. As an athlete, you know your abilities and I knew my abilities weren’t enough for me to be in the big leagues, never mind what I have accomplished. God took those abilities and made me better.”
Mariano’s faith and devotion to God is reflected not just in his words, but even in his behaviour and attitude. Compared to many baseball players and athletes in general, who do a lot of routines to get ready for their performances, the one thing Mariano never forgets to do is to pray. In everything he does, he always remembers God, because Mariano believes that without God, he would never have gotten to where he is today.
Mariano says in an interview regarding his preparation:
“Every time before I throw my first pitch, I am praying. And not only that, in the bullpen I am praying. I know there are millions of people praying for me, and I strongly believe in prayers. I know who I am, I know what I am capable of, I know who I trust. I don’t have control over everything; God has control over everything and I trust him, so I don’t worry.”
Everyone who has had the chance to work with Mariano always says great things about him, because of Mariano’s humble and gracious attitude. His respect for the sport of baseball is hailed by many, and his teammates truly admire Mariano not just as a player, but as a person. Cal Ripken, Jr., a former well-known baseball superstar, said of Mariano:
“Mariano respects the game, and the way he acts makes people gravitate toward him. He leads more so by example than with his words. I couldn’t have more respect than I do for Mariano. He’s the perfect role model for kids who want to be closers, because he doesn’t jump around and pump his fist when he records the final out of a game. Every young player should aspire to be like Mariano.”
Mariano’s Humble Beginnings
Amazingly, Mariano Rivera’s superstar life and career has very humble beginnings. He was born on November 29, 1969 in Panama City to parents Mariano Sr. and Delia Rivera. Along with his older sister Delia and two younger brothers Alvaro and Giraldo, Mariano spent his childhood years at the small fishing village of Puerto Caimito, a community which he described as ‘poor yet wonderful to be a part of.’
Mariano described his town in an interview:
“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.”
Although Mariano and his family lived in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood, they were at least afforded by a small amount of comfort and wealth because of his father’s work (Mariano Sr. was a captain of a medium fishing boat in the town’s small fishing industry). Aside from that, the love that his parents showed him and his siblings greatly inspired the young Mariano and would affect his attitude for the rest of his life.
Mariano recalled his parents in an interview made with him:
“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.”
A lot of who Mariano came to be as a person was a result of the influence of his parents over his life. In many of the interviews made with him, Mariano greatly credits his parents for teaching him the things that he came to value as he grew up. When he was asked in an interview about how his parents affected him, Mariano simply answered:
“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.”
Starting Young in Sports
Even at an early age, Mariano was already a fan of sports. In fact, Mariano spent a lot of time playing soccer and baseball with his friends, using makeshift materials such as milk cartons for gloves, tree branches and wooden planks for bats, and taped-up shredded fishing nets for balls. Mariano continued to use these improvised equipment until when he was twelve years old, when Mariano Sr. finally bought him his very first leather glove.
It is quite surprising though, that when Mariano was young, he never really wanted to play baseball as a professional. Instead, Mariano wanted to become a soccer player and make a name for himself in the big leagues. However, when he was studying at the Pedro Pablo Sanchez High School, Mariano suffered several ankle injuries which ended his hopes of playing soccer professionally.
After graduating high school at age sixteen, Mariano started working with his father in the fishing industry. Going out into the sea and catching shrimp and sardines was not what Mariano had in mind for himself, who thought that working as a mechanic was much easier compared to what he was doing at that time. When Mariano was nineteen years old, while out in the open sea, he had to abandon their commercial fishing boat because it was capsizing due to the strong waves; this experience influenced Mariano to finally decide to quit his fishing career and turn his focus to something else.
Mariano was Born Again
Sometime during his early twenties, Mariano had an encounter with a born-again missionary in their city that he gives great credit for changing his life, because the encounter led him to knowing God. All throughout his childhood, Mariano never once had the opportunity to attend church, but after his ‘born again’ experience, Mariano started to desire to know more about his spiritual life. His conversion to Christianity greatly impacted his life, as it developed in him a positive outlook in every circumstance. From that time on, Mariano inscribed the Bible verse ‘Philippians 4:13’ on his pitching glove, which read:
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Focusing On Baseball
It was not long before Mariano finally found his true passion in life. In 1988, Mariano, abandoning all hopes of becoming a professional soccer player, joined the Panama Oeste (a baseball team in their locality) and became the team’s shortstop. Mariano related this experience in an interview:
“I wasn’t even looking for baseball. My main game was soccer; my second game was baseball. I was really naïve when it came to professional baseball. All of a sudden, soccer started going down, and baseball started gaining priorities because I was getting hit a lot on my knees and ankles. I didn’t want to get to the point that I couldn’t play baseball too, so I let soccer go a little bit and started playing more baseball.”
Eventually, Mariano replaced the last pitcher because the team was performing so poorly. The decision to put Mariano in the pitcher position was the best thing that the Panama Oeste team did, as it improved the team’s play afterwards.
Mariano’s First Professional Baseball Contract
Everyone was so impressed with Mariano’s performance that his two teammates, Emilio Gaez and Claudino Hernandez contacted Chico Heron, a talent scout for the New York Yankees. Within a week, Mariano was invited to the tryouts in which Herb Raybourn, the director of Latin American operations for the New York Yankees, was attending. When Herb saw the skill and potential that Mariano displayed, he immediately decided to give the young Mariano a shot and offered him a contract to play baseball professionally, which Mariano accepted.
The Minor League Years: A Steady Rise to the Top
And so, in 1990, Mariano signed his contract with Herb and flew to the United States in spite of not knowing how to speak English. He started playing for the Gulf Coast League Yankees, which was a minor league partner of the big shot New York Yankees. Within a year of joining the team, Mariano immediately showed his natural talent in the game and showed great progress for the year’s season that the following year, he was promoted to the Class A level of the South Atlantic League. Buck Showalter, who witnessed the strikeout-to-walk ration of Mariano, remarked how ‘this guy is going to make it.’
In 1991, Mariano married Clara, whom he had known ever since they were in their elementary years. After rekindling their relationship, the couple married and had three sons: Mariano III, Jafet, and Jaziel. Mariano gives great credit to his family for helping him rise high in his career, because of the comfort and inspiration that his wife and children provide him, especially in tough times. He said in an interview:
“Without the support of my family—and even though they are Christians and have to have blessings, you still have to have the support of your family—I don’t see how I would have accomplished any of this. My family has played a big, big, big role.”
And he was not wrong. From 1992 to 1994, Mariano kept moving upward in his minor league career, being promoted from team to team in the minor league, constantly staying at the Class A-Advanced Level. During the 1992 Major League Baseball expansion draft, Mariano was not picked due to an injury he suffered on his wrist at one game. In spite of this disappointing setback, Mariano kept on focusing on the positive side of things, continuing to improve as he rehabilitated.
1994 was a successful year for Mariano, because of the quick promotions that he received throughout his minor league career. His final promotion was to the Triple-A level of the International League, and he finished the year with a ten to two record in every start. Mariano’s performance earned him recognition by the magazine ‘Baseball America,’ which named Mariano as the ninth best prospect for the New York Yankees.
1995 Onward: Major League Baseball
Finally, in 1995, Mariano got his chance in playing at the big leagues when he participated in the game against the California Angels. Right during his debut as a starting pitcher, Mariano wasted no time in impressing the audiences with his spectacular pitches. In spite of these performances, Mariano’s place in the major league team was not yet secured due to his arm injury; in fact, the New York Yankees thought of trading Mariano to other teams, but due to his state of recovery, the other teams refused to have him. Eventually, through his stellar performances, the New York Yankees decided to keep Mariano in their team.
Mariano’s Baseball Career at its Peak
Keeping Mariano was the best decision that the New York Yankees ever made with regards to their pitcher. Throughout the next two years, Mariano continued to prove himself to be an exceptional pitcher, bringing his team through multiple victories against opponents who formerly defeated the Yankees prior to them acquiring Mariano. In 1996, Mariano led the Yankees to win the World Series Cup, the team’s first World Series championship in eighteen years.
Mariano suffered a strain in his groin in the opening month of the 1998 season, but once he returned to the fray, he immediately showcased his exceptional pitching skills by bringing his team to victory at that year’s World Series, earning the team their second World Series cup. He also set a number of records that up to today still stands—the lowest postseason career ERA. The following year, Mariano led the Yankees to another World Series victory and won his very first World Series MVP Award and the AL Rolaids Relief Man Award, a prestigious award given to MLB’s best closer.
Mariano did not stop there. In 2000, he continued to bring the Yankees to its third consecutive World Series Cup win, greatly amazing even the most skeptical of baseball critics. In fact, Jack Curry, a famous journalist for the sport, called Mariano the ‘infallible weapon’ and the ‘greatest reason why the Yankees were three time champions.’ The following year, in 2001, Mariano renewed his contract with the New York Yankees and earned himself his second AL Rolaids Relief Man Award. Although the team failed to win that year’s World Series cup, Mariano’s incredible performances have truly established him as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
Yankees Beats Red Sox
Several injuries slowed Mariano’s career for the next few years, but this did not stop him from being at his best. In 2003, Mariano made one of his most memorable postseason performances when he led the Yankees to victory against the Boston Red Sox at the American League Champion Series. This victory earned Mariano the AL Championship Series MVP Award for his extraordinary saves.
For the next two years (in 2004 and 2005), Mariano’s career continued to be impeded by his injuries. During the 2004 season, Mariano played in very few games and failed to win any championships. The following year, Mariano showed improvement after a stint of recovery but still failed to win any championships. However, 2005 became Mariano’s best career so far, breaking his previous records and making remarkable comeback performances. It was this year that he won his fourth AL Rolaids Relief Man Award, and was voted to be the greatest of all the Latino players.
2006 saw a comeback for Mariano as he began to rise back up after a series of disappointments in the past two years. During the MLB All-Star Game, Mariano led the New York Yankees to victory with an amazing streak of saves. In spite of a shoulder strain that slowed him down in the middle of the year, Mariano ended the season with a very impressive stat, resulting in him being voted as the Delivery Man of the Year for the second consecutive time.
2007 and 2008 brought a mixture of victories and defeats for Mariano. In 2007, Mariano had one of his most upsetting career seasons, earning runs and hits as low as twenty-five and sixty-eight respectively. In spite of this, the Yankees decided to extend his contract and in 2008, Mariano proved that the Yankees were not wrong in their decision to keep him by rebounding from his failures. Even after he was revealed to be suffering from several injuries in his throwing shoulder, Mariano still made an impressive individual season by finishing with thirty-nine saves in forty opportunities.
Mariano finally got back in his game in 2009, despite all critical voices saying that he was starting to lose shape in his game. It was in this year that Mariano led the Yankees to victory at the World Series by beating the Philadelphia Phillies during the finals. Mariano’s very impressive performance in this season caused him to be named as the Pro Athlete of the Year by Sporting News Magazine, and got him his fifth AL Rolaids Relief Man Award.
Mariano Gives Back Part of His Salary
From 2010 to 2012, Mariano continued his impressive successful career streaks that caused him to be nominated several times for the MLB Hall of Fame. The most memorable among these was his 2011 career season, where Mariano broke the record for the most number of saves in MLB history. In 2012, Mariano’s career was mostly impeded by a series of injuries, which caused him to miss a lot of games so that he can undergo surgery and recover.
In 2012, Mariano was ranked twenty-fifth most generous celebrity by The Giving Back Fund for his donations to charity in 2010, which amounted to 627,500 dollars.
Mariano returned to the spotlight in 2013, after recovering from surgery. During his last All-Star Game appearance, Mariano made history by retiring all three batters that he faced, resulting in him winning the All-Star Game MVP Award, making him the first ever reliever to be given that award.
With all of the successes that Mariano has achieved in his career as a baseball superstar, one thing that makes him extraordinary is his heart for philanthropy. Mariano is an active philanthropist by profession as well, and has even established his own charitable foundation, The Mariano Rivera Foundation, to reach out to the underprivileged children and give them hope for a bright future. Mariano is among the athletes that are actively engaged in numerous philanthropic endeavors, which prove just how much heart he has for giving back to the people and reflecting the heart of God for humanity.
Faith, passion, humility and a love for God—this sums up the life and career of Mariano Rivera, who serves as a great inspiration for us to always thank God in everything. As he says:
“I am just a guy who is blessed with a tremendous team, a tremendous gift from the Lord and the support of my wife and family.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The Mariano Rivera Foundation
- Dream Factory
Awards and Achievements
- 1997: Named an American League All-Star
- 1997: Received the Reliever of the Year Award from Sporting News
- 1999: Received the Babe Ruth Award
- 1999: Named an American League All-Star
- 1999: Received the World Series MVP Award
- 1999: Received the American League Rolaids Relief Man Award
- 1999: Received the Reliever of the Year Award from Sporting News
- 2000: Named an American League All-Star
- 2001: Received the Reliever of the Year Award from Sporting News
- 2001: Named an American League All-Star
- 2001: Received the American League Rolaids Relief Man Award
- 2002: Named an American League All-Star
- 2003: Received the American League Championship Series MVP Award
- 2003: Received the Thurman Munson Award
- 2004: Named an American League All-Star
- 2004: Received the Closer of the Year Award
- 2004: Received the Reliever of the Year Award from Sporting News
- 2004: Received the American League Rolaids Relief Man Award
- 2005: Named an American League All-Star
- 2005: Received the Closer of the Year Award
- 2005: Received the American League Rolaids Relief Man Award
- 2005: Received the Delivery Man of the Year Award
- 2005: Received the Reliever of the Year Award from Sporting News
- 2006: Named an American League All-Star
- 2006: Received the Closer of the Year Award
- 2006: Received the Delivery Man of the Year Award
- 2008: Named an American League All-Star
- 2008: Named as an American League Player of the Week
- 2008: Received the Delivery Man of the Month Award
- 2009: Named an American League All-Star
- 2009: Received the Delivery Man of the Month Award
- 2009: Received the Reliever of the Year Award from Sporting News
- 2009: Named as an American League Player of the Week
- 2009: Received the Closer of the Year Award
- 2009: Received the American League Rolaids Relief Man Award
- 2009: Received the Delivery Man of the Year Award
- 2009: Received the Pro Athlete of the Year Award from Sporting News
- 2010: Named an American League All-Star
- 2010: Named as the Clutch Performer of the Month
- 2011: Named as an American League Player of the Week
- 2011: Named an American League All-Star
- 2013: Received the All-Star Game MVP Award
- 2013: Named an American League All-Star
- Holds the record for Most Career Games Finished
- Holds the record for Most Career Saves
- Holds the record for Highest Career Adjusted ERA+
Yankees Magazine Blog (Exclusive Q&A with Mariano Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr.)
New York Post (King's Q&A with Mariano Rivera)
Gotham Magazine (Richard Gere Interviews Mariano Rivera)
Wikipedia (Mariano Rivera)
Bleacher Report (Mariano Rivera: A Bio of the Greatest Closer in Baseball)