Mariano Rivera when he attended the NYC Soccer Gala several years ago. (Photo courtesy of Arnie Ramirez)
Since February is Black History Month, FrontRowSoccer.com will post one story a day about soccer players of color from the United States and the rest of the world. This multi-part series we will feature players from Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, U.S. Virgin Islands, Ghana, Bermuda, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, Senegal and the United States. Today, we feature former New York Yankees Hall of Fame reliever Mariano Rivera, who gave the Panama national team a pep talk at the Concacaf Gold Cup on July 23, 2013.
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.”
Midfielder Anibal Godoy said that Rivera’s visit with the team “was great. It’s a privilege to be with him. The team has been able to take in the advice that he has given us, the motivation he gave us and be able to share with him a day like today. To be able to have that time with a very humble person, for a couple of players who hadn’t had the privilege like me to have met him, it’s a great thing. The conversation with Mariano was successful on an individual level and at a group level as well.”
Striker Blas Perez also was inspired by Rivera’s talk.
“It was a very motivation conversation,” he said. “It is a person who believes in God. He had a lot of inspirational remarks. I think that’s staying with us and we have to take it as a great example. Mariano is a great figure in Panama and the U.S. and we’re hoping to do the great things he’s done for Panama.”
Panama coach Julio Dely Valdes, who first met Rivera in New York in April, was just as excited to see the Panamanian legend a second time.
“He’s a person who is very humble with a lot of virtues,” he said. “What was said today to keep it short. I tried at least on my end to convince [him] we have to get a favorable situation in tomorrow’s game and hopefully he could come to the game and close the game. I think that would be a guarantee for us to win the game.”
Of course, Dely Valdes was joking.