Mariano Rivera discusses baseball, faith with Life Talk

Former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera talks to the Iona community about faith.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera visited Iona College to speak at Life Talk, an event run by the Office of Mission and Ministry on Sept. 27.

To the students and faculty members, Rivera is known as the “Sandman,” the Major League Baseball All-Time saves leader and arguably one of the greatest closers to ever step on the mound.

However, when they walked out of the event that evening, they learned a little bit more about Rivera’s journey to becoming a 13-time All-Star, 5-time World Series champion and World Series MVP.

The Panama native, known as “Pili” by his friends and family, came from a family that didn’t have a lot of money. Rivera dropped out of school at 17 to pursue a mechanic’s life, but ended up being a fisherman like his father.

The unexpected happened to Rivera when he tried out for the Yankees as a pitcher. A Yankees scout liked the way Rivera performed in tryouts and during a game against the Panama National Team, so he signed Rivera to a minor league contract. At that moment, Rivera realized that God had a purpose for him in life.

“The moment I signed with the Yankees was something I wasn’t expecting,” Rivera said. “That was enough for me to understand that he [God] will orchestrate my whole career.”

Rivera continued to believe in the Lord and remembered that he was with the Yankees for a reason. Even though he had faith in God watching him, times were still difficult, especially during the early parts of his career when he could barely speak English.

“Everything was not easy,” Rivera said. “There were times I cried and couldn’t speak to no one because I didn’t know the language.”

Rivera knew that the only way he could be successful in the MLB and become what he was meant to be was that he had to trust God.

“Throughout my whole career, I had to learn to trust the Lord,” Rivera said. “He opened the door for me and I took it.”

Rivera even talked to his teammates about God and whether they believed in him or not.

“I was never shy about talking to the Lord,” Rivera said. “I talked [about] Christ to anyone. You listen or you don’t, but that’s my faith.”

Rivera spent years gracing the Yankees with his cutter and ability to leave opponent hitters stunned. During these years there were times when Rivera questioned his faith in God, such as when he could not understand why God would let his team lose or why he suffered an injury.

“There were many times when I questioned it,” Rivera said. “When we lost the World Series in 2001, I was like ‘God are you serious?’ My faith was so high.”

Rivera learned to understand that failure is a part of life and that the only way to get better is to move forward. That was one of the things he encouraged everyone at Life Talk to do. Overcome failure and never let others’ criticism get in the way of success.

“You are going to face people that criticize you. They are going to tell you that you are not good enough,” Rivera said. “It’s up to you if you take it or move forward and go after what you want.”

Rivera ended the event with a piece of advice he received from Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford.

“Only worry about things you can control,” Rivera said. “I use that still today.”

Iona got a chance to know what made Rivera the player and man that he is, while understanding that life is what you make it and when the opportunities come, you must reach out and take them.

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