(Not an image I ever wanted (or expected) to see. Courtesy of The AP)
The roughly 24-hour period of time from last Thursday night to last Friday night was right up there with the most emotional moments I've had as a Yankee fan. The initial breaking story of Mariano Rivera being carted off the field prior to Thursday's game and follow-up video of Mo crumbling to the ground in pain were so shocking that I actually had trouble falling asleep on Thursday night, and by the time I woke up on Friday morning, they still didn't quite seem real.
I spent the majority of my day at the office on Friday in a confused haze and was finally coming to terms with the fact that Mo's career was really over when I got home from work, fired up the computer, and starting reading tweets and reports that he was coming back. Once I saw quotes from Mo himself and a video clip of him speaking to Pedro Gomez, you could have burned my apartment to the ground in front of me and it still wouldn't have wiped the smile off my face. With all due respect to Suzyn Waldman and Rawjuh Clemens, Mo's announcement was far more dramatic and far more meaningful to me as a fan. And after 3 days I finally feel like I can attempt to talk competently about it.
The initial shock and resulting unshakable sadness I felt was two-fold. One, I couldn't believe that after 17 years of shagging flies every day, and the consistent theme of Mo's grace and athleticism in the field being mentioned by teammates after teammate year after year, he finally suffered an injury in what was supposed to be his last season. If anything, I would have figured something like this (albeit hopefully less severe) would have happened earlier in his career and put the kibosh on that routine. To make it through that many years and surely thousands of fly balls without incident, only to suffer a possible career-ending injury in your final season is a huge kick in the karmic balls. Two, for purely selfish reasons I was deeply upset at having the opportunity to see Mo pitch one more time taken away from me. It bothers me that I haven't been to a Yankee game in years, and it would have bothered me even more to know that even if I did make it to a game this year, I wouldn't have the chance to watch my 2nd-favorite Yankee and baseball player of all time play one last time.
Knowing how religious Mo is, and remembering him chalking up the bloop single in the '01 World Series and the '04 ALCS collapse to God's will, I thought for sure he was going to take the injury as a sign that his time was up. That feeling was enhanced by watching the clip of Mo discussing the injury with the media after Thursday night's game, when the ACL tear diagnosis became official. Mo has always been very calm, stoic, almost robotic in his dealings with the media. To see him shaken to the point of tears and struggling to keep his composure while his voiced cracked with every word was incredibly unnerving. I'm not ashamed to admit that I had tears in my eyes watching it. He sounded like he knew he was done and was struggling to come to terms with it himself, almost as shocked as I was that it took this kind of freak accident to end what had seemed like an un-endable career. It certainly would have been understandable if he did decide to hang 'em after the injury. It's not like he has anything left to prove, and hasn't for some time now, but it still didn't make the situation any less sad.
But oh what a difference a day makes, I guess. When I read and posted the first quotes from Mo on Friday afternoon declaring his comeback, it was like the cloud that had been hanging over me was immediately lifted. This was the Mo I knew and loved, the one who refused to bend in the face of any kind of adversity. The quivering, sad voice from Thursday night had been replaced by the all-too-familiar calm, no-nonsense, confidence of Mariano Rivera. Whether he took the injury as a sign or not didn't matter. Mo had made the decision that he wasn't going to allow himself to go out like that. Time hasn't been able to stop him, slightly-diminished velocity hasn't been able to stop him, and other hitters haven't been able to stop him. Why should this? I had goosebumps on my arms and texted the news to pretty much every friend/family member I knew who is a Yankee fan. And once again, I'm not ashamed to admit that I actually fired up "Enter Sandman" on the iPod and had a celebratory 5-minute rock-out session.
As you can probably tell from the disjointed, barely-coherent nature of this post, I'm still a bit flustered by the whole situation. It sucks that Mo isn't going to be back this season, and even though he's made up his mind to go through the rehab and come back in 2013, who knows how much this injury will affect him moving forward. Part of what has made Mo so great is the fact that he's never really suffered a serious injury. Now he has to rehab from one on his drive leg at age 43. If ever there was an opportunity for Father Time to finally bite Mo in the ass, it would be next year.
I'm incredibly excited to know that I still have the chance to watch my favorite pitcher pitch. I'm also incredibly scared to think of the possibilities next year. All indications were that Mo was the same old Mo this year, and it would have been perfect for him to go out on his own terms and still at the top of his game. I would hate to see him finally succumb to old age next year in the second take of his farewell tour. It certainly won't diminish his career in any way, but I want to be able to remember him as the consistently-dominant force that he was.