Storytime With Sweeny: Mo's Tunnel Vision

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The last game Mariano Rivera ever pitched was a perfect close for the ultimate closer. Who can forget the theatre of having Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter go to the mound to remove him from the game, the tears and the hugs before Rivera exited to thunderous applause.

Rivera’s last game will be replayed on WFAN tonight. And that final scene was better than any other script you could have written. Even closing out one last World Series might not have brought the proper emotion to the moment.

Watching Rivera sobbing in the arms of his longtime teammates was jarring because of how stoic and methodical he was when closing out games. But it all came flowing out of him that night.

A few months after that last game I was fortunate enough to host a Q&A with Mariano and Bernie Williams at the annual Hillside Food Outreach Gala. Before the three of us took the stage to chat, a video was played highlighting some of Rivera’s greatest moments and it included his final appearance. 

As we all watched Rivera jog in from the Yankee Stadium bullpen one last time, you could hear a recording of the late Bob Sheppard announcing him entering the game. It was a nice touch to have that voice be a part of this moment. Sheppard had passed away three years earlier.

Rivera, seated behind me, leaned over my shoulder and said in amazement, “That’s Bob Sheppard!” He didn’t hear it in the moment. He was so focused then that only now, months after it happened and watching it on tape, did he recognize it.

I asked Rivera last year about that moment and where his mind was during all those jogs to the mound, what was going through his mind as 50,000 fans rocked out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and prepared for the final three outs.

“I wasn't aware of my surroundings, I wasn’t aware of the music, I wasn't aware of who was in the field—I wasn’t aware of any of that stuff,” Rivera told me.

“I was aware of who I had to face and (focused on) getting one out at a time.  Every time I took a step on that field, getting closer to that mound, the intensity of determination and focus, and being able to do what I was supposed to do…that’s what I had in mind.”

Rivera noticed nothing going on around him. On the occasions when he finished the 8th inning and went back to the dugout to prepare for the 9th, he said friends and family would tell him later that he looked right at them in the stands as they screamed and yelled for him. He remembered none of it. 

“That’s how intense it was for me, how focused I was when I was pitching. It’s true there is a tunnel vision. I experienced it.”

Some call it “The Zone” and they seem to refer to it as a place of perfect execution. For Rivera it was a place of preparation, and he entered it every time he took the mound.