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Keeping the faith

Rivera credits spiritual strength for his success

Posted: Friday May 27, 2005 11:27AM; Updated: Friday May 27, 2005 11:27AM
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Joe DiMaggio's famous benediction in 1949, "I thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee," was perhaps the first overt sign of a holy alliance between a higher power and the Bronx baseball dynasty. Fifty-plus years later, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has been nothing but other-worldly. His accomplishments include two AL Rolaids Relief awards (1999, '01), six All-Star team appearances, MVPs of the 1999 World Series and 2003 ALCS and a stunning career postseason ERA of 0.75. Though he recently passed Rollie Fingers at seventh place on the all-time saves list with 343 -- gaining fast on career leader Lee Smith (478) -- the once-invincible Rivera began this season by continuing a streak of blown saves against the Boston Red Sox dating to his dramatic 2004 ALCS failure. In advance of this weekend's Red Sox-Yankees series at the Stadium, SI.com sat down to chat with the deeply religious reliever.

Mariano Rivera
After a slow start this season, Mariano Rivera has 11 saves and a 1.53 ERA.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

SI.com: Faith is a very big part of your life. In a moment of rapture, you once said, "I think the good Lord is Yankee." How did George Steinbrenner arrange that deal?

MR: That was there already. George didn't have nothing to do with that. He didn't pay extra.

SI.com: How does God feel about the Boston Red Sox?

MR: Well, you know, God gives a little something to them -- some breath -- because it's good for baseball. I think it's great. They just had to work a little harder to get it.

SI.com: I think faith has its place in baseball, but is it appropriate for the San Diego Padres to use a priest as their mascot?

MR: (Hen, heh) I don't get into those things, you know. Faith is definitely important but I really don't know what San Diego is doing.

SI.com: One could envision teams in various cities using clergy mascots to gain a spiritual edge. Imagine the Cleveland Shamans, Florida Rabbis or the Houston Muhllas. Yet, which person in the Bible would you pick as the athletic symbol for a professional sports team?

MR: I would say King David. David was a warrior. He was a stand-up guy.

SI.com: If Jesus was a major league pitcher would he be a starter, middle reliever or a closer?

MR: Man, he would be everything -- starter, middle-reliever and closer. He would do it all. He don't need no reliever. He don't need no closer.

SI.com: Would it be fair to say Jesus could've been the ultimate middle reliever, willing to sacrifice himself for the poor play others that came before him and possessing the humility to allow the pitcher who comes after him to get all the glory?

MR: He'll sacrifice for the team, for the world, and for the Holy Spirit -- the one that comes after him. Jesus would be the ultimate starter, middle reliever and closer because if he starts it, he finishes it.

SI.com: But maybe he's a natural closer, after all, since so many people see him as their savior?

MR: That's definitely true.

SI.com: You've often been seen reading the Bible in the clubhouse. What do read in the bullpen to keep you in the right spiritual frame of mind as you wait for your entrance in the late innings?

MR: Not in the bullpen. There, it's all business. I don't mix my work with reading the Bible. I'd love to do that but I don't think it would be proper.

SI.com: Separation of church and fastball?

MR: It's respect. I want to give my respect, glory and time to the Bible -- to the world of God -- just as I want to give my respect and time to my work.

SI.com: What passage in the scriptures do you rely on the most to help you as a baseball player?

MR: Here let me find it. (Reaches into his locker, pulls out his glove and shows me the inscription on the outside portion of the glove thumb: "Phil. 4:13") That's Philippians 4:13. It says "I can do all things through Christ who is strengthening me." It's my favorite verse.

SI.com: When you enter a home game they blast Metallica's Enter Sandman on the Yankee Stadium speakers. Is there a popular hymn that you might prefer for motivational purposes?

MR: To tell you the truth, I didn't pick that song. I don't know Metallica or Enter Sandman. I didn't pick none of that stuff. They chose it and we stick with it. I don't listen to that kind of music.

SI.com: What's your kind of music?

MR: I listen to Christian music.

SI.com: If you could choose one song what would it be? There are so many. I'd love to have all of them played.

SI.com: You give a lot back to the community. In 2001 you made a beautiful gesture by donating your American League Rolaids Relief Award to the New York City Fire Department. Where do they keep the award now?

MR: Somebody told me they have it in one of the departments here in the City. I think they deserve it more than I do. They are the real saviors. I save games. They save people. And the way they did it -- dying for us. It's tremendous. That's what touched me. I wanted to present that award to the real "firemen."

SI.com: Have you ever tried Rolaids for acid indigestion?

MR: Actually, sometimes I do. It works!

SI.com: You are last player to wear the No. 42, which has been retired from Major League Baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson. Why did you choose 42?

MR: I didn't even choose it. It was given to me. When I came here (to the Yankees) I was wearing number 58 and all of sudden they give me 42. I don't know the reason why. But I'll tell you what: It was a plan of God. It was a purpose of God for me to receive that honor. Because for me it is an honor to be the last person to wear that number in baseball. And you know, as a minority to come here and wear this number it means so much to us -- the minority players -- to wear Jackie's number.

SI.com: If God loves trees, why does it seem that he also loves broken bats when you pitch?

MR: (Laughing) That's good. That's very good. I don't know why he gives me that talent. Other guys like to break their bats against me, I guess. I don't know what to say about it. It's a lot trees saying "ouch." (pauses) I take my game seriously and I know a lot of guys laugh at that [his propensity to break bats]. In spring training I joke with the players on the other teams about it but when it comes to the season I'm serious.

SI.com: The good book says "pray for thine enemies." If you had to say a prayer for the Red Sox, what would it be?

MR: I would pray that God bless them, in his way. He knows what they need. God is good for everybody. The sun shines on good people and bad people and it rains on both too. God doesn't choose rain only for bad people.

SI.com: God even loves the Red Sox or, as they call themselves, the "idiots"?

MR: I'm telling you, God loves a lot of people.

Dave Hollander's book, 52 Weeks, a collection of his interviews with famous sports figures and personal stories about his experiences in sports comes out in Fall 2005 with The Lyons Press. Email: dave@filmsfilmsfilms.com