Mariano Rivera was a guest at the NYC Soccer Gala in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Arnie Ramirez)

With Mariano Rivera becoming the first player to be unanimously elected into the Baseball Hall of fame, here’s a story when the Yankee great was a fan in the stands for the Panama national team in its big upset of Mexico in the semifinals of the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup Wednesday, July 24.

By Michael Lewis

ARLINGTON, Texas — Mariano Rivera did not get an opportunity to close out the New York Yankees’ baseball game at the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night because his team wound up on the short end of a 3-1 result.

But the New York Yankees’ ace reliever and Panamanian baseball legend had an opportunity to watch his favorite soccer team put the finishing touches on and closing out its own game — a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals at Cowboys Stadium a few hours later.

“I mean, that was spectacular,” Rivera said outside the Panama locker room. “I’m grateful to the lord to allow us to play the game the way we played and allowed us to come out on top. That was great. I am humble to see my team play the way they did and win.”

After grabbing a 2-1 lead in the 61st minute, Panama survived a late-match surge by the Mexicans.

Rivera said the result went beyond big news in Panama.

“It’s big anywhere,” he said. “You beat a Mexico team, it’s huge.”

Rivera said he was a huge soccer fan and follows Los Canaleros on a regular basis.

When asked who his favorite soccer player was, Rivera replied, “All of them.”

On the flip side, Rivera has many fans on the Panama team.

Coach Julio Dely Valdes was quite pleased Rivera attended the final minutes of the match as Panama reached the Gold Cup final for only the second time. On Tuesday, Rivera met with the team.

“It’s very positive,” he said. “That’s what Mariano transmits. It tells the national team that he has a lot of faith in us. He wants to be with us. It makes us happy to know that Mariano is from Panama. He’s an idol. We were saying in the locker room . . . that the Yankees should play in Chicago this Sunday. We were able to have Mariano yesterday and today with us. It has been great, very important to us.”

No such luck for Panama as the Yankees host Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium this weekend.

Rivera was honored by the Rangers as he is making his final swing through the American League this season, his final season.

“It’s great, great, great, great ovations, great experience,” he said. “You just want to keep going. We want to do our best and thank God we are able to do it.”

Here’s another story you might be interested in:

FROM A CLOSER TO A STARTER: Repost: Rivera in an unusual position as NYC FC’s first season-ticket holder

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at