Rivera showing greatness again in comeback
No betting against one-of-a-kind closer as he returns from torn ACL
TAMPA, Fla. -- The relentlessly positive nature, the devotion, the belief, the fierce competitive drive -- all of that remains in place.
On the other side of the issue, is just this: A 43-year-old man, pursuing his career as an athlete, attempting to come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
I like Mariano Rivera -- the positive nature, the devotion and the fierce competitive drive -- in this argument. He probably should not be held to the standards of the rest of humanity in a situation such as this. He has been not only the best closer in the game -- he has been one of a kind.
At George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, the catchers and pitchers of the New York Yankees had their first workout of this year's Spring Training. An encouraging sign for all was the presence and the full participation of Rivera.
Rivera threw a bullpen session, and his motion contained the usual fluidity and grace. He ran, and he took part in three sessions of fielding practice for pitchers, and again, his movements did not appear to be in any way restricted. Asked to rate his knee on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being as good as possible, Rivera responded, "I feel good. I would say around nine, for sure. The other point will be the 10, and that will be the running that I do here. But besides that everything's great."
What about the pitching part itself, Mariano?
"I won't be a nine," Rivera said with a small smile. "I'll be a 10, I think."
Could he be, Rivera was asked, the Mo of old?
"Definitely," he replied. "That's what I demand of myself. With the blessing of the Lord, I'm looking for that. Otherwise I wouldn't be here. I want to help this team as much as I can. If I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be, then I'm not helping at all.
What can be motivating him now, after 608 saves and five World Series championships, to go through the rigors of rehabilitation at a relatively advanced age? The same things that have always motivated him.
"The love of the game, the passion that I have for this drives me," Rivera said. "I come here to win. This is the preparation for that. When I come here, my mind is already going to a different level. And that is winning championships. Those things start in February. That's the way I think and that's what motivates me."
And that is why, through the long, difficult, trying process, Rivera's will to come back never seriously wavered. The routine response of "this isn't going to work out," did not occur to him.
"I don't think that way," Rivera said. "I'm a positive man, so I always think positive. There were many times that I had, not doubts, but soreness, pain, I will say. But it never went through my mind that I didn't want to do it anymore. It was a challenge for me, and something like this is not easy, you just have to work at it and find a way to get it done. And that's what I do."
The rest of the Yankees are understandably thrilled to have Rivera on hand and once again working toward being the best.
"It's great," said Andy Pettitte, who knows plenty about late-career comebacks. "What he brings to the club -- his personality, his makeup -- you gotta have it. And just having somebody in his 40s out there to talk to feels real good."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi expressed no doubts when asked about his expectations for a full return of Rivera to the top of his game. While this might seem to be an "apples and oranges," situation, Girardi admitted, he offered an example: "Adrian Peterson came back pretty well."
Apples and oranges, that makes sense. Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings' sensational running back, came back from a similar knee injury, to post a 2,000-yard rushing season in 2012, and was subsequently named the National Football League's Most Valuable Player. The great ones cannot be held to the normal standards.
Rivera tore his right anterior cruciate ligament while chasing fly balls during batting practice in Kansas City last May. But don't expect him to stop shagging flies at any point in the near future.
"I don't want to be somebody that I'm not," Rivera said. "I will be careful. I'm always careful. The injury happened because the Lord permitted it. I have to be ready. And if shagging is part of my routine, then I'll be doing it. I will be myself."
This is all anyone can ask, although asking Rivera to be himself is automatically asking a lot.
Rivera says he has made a decision on his retirement plans, and he will announce it before the start of the regular season. If this is his final season, it ought to be especially savored -- for who Rivera has been, for what he has accomplished and now, for what he has gone through to extend his brilliant career.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.