By Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffery
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2014
I was pleased to receive a review copy of this autobiography of baseball pitcher Mariano Rivera. who played 19 seasons (1995-2013) for the New York Yankees - 17 of them as a relief pitcher so dominant he was nicknamed "The Sandman." He was a thirteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, and is Major League Baseball's career leader in saves and games finished. I can't imagine that he won't be in the Baseball Hall of Fame when he is eligible.
As a sports memoir should, The Closer tells the story of Rivera's years with the Yankees organization and the World Series wins. But for me the most interesting aspects of the book were his story before baseball, in the poor fishing village of Puerto Caimito, on Panama's Pacific Coast; how the Yankees recruited him out of Panama, where he had never heard of Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron; the anecdotes about playing in the Yankees minor-league affiliates, where he met future team mates like Derek Jeter ("the kid is a year out of high school and all limbs, and you are never sure what he will do") and played against Carlos Delgado, one of my favourite Toronto Blue Jays (and peace activists); and his faith.
Rivera tells how he spoke about faith with his cousin while they were working on a fishing boat off Panama, and how he eventually responded to the altar call in a small cement church. The book does not understate the impact of his faith on his life:
I unpack my most precious possession - the red-leather Bible that was a gift from Clara. It has notes in the margins, and verses underlined and passages highlighted. It has been well-thumbed, I can tell you that. 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...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.
And, in contrast to how prayer is treated in some sports settings and in popular culture:
Prayer is not like a vending machine, where you put in your quarters (or words) and then wait for the product to be delivered. It's not as if I can say to the Lord, "I pray for this World Series victory," or "I pray for a clean bill of health on my next checkup," and then just sit back and wait for Him to deliver it. When my agent is negotiating a contract for me, I never get down on my hands and knees and ask the Lord to make me wealthy. I don't pray for a new car or a good MRI result, or a strikeout in a big spot. For me, the most meaningful prayers are when I ask for God's wisdom.
Rivera and his wife Clara have now started an evangelical church, Refugio de Esperanza, in a former Presbyterian church building in New Rochelle CT, with Clara as senior pastor.
Baseball fans (of all teams) will enjoy this memoir from one of the finest players of the last two decades; Christian readers will learn from this story of faith, as Rivera seeks to honour God in his calling as an athlete.