I have never forgotten the first time I saw Mariano Rivera make a plate appearance. It was the 1996 World Series and he was still a setup man. I don't remember which game it was, but it was in Atlanta, of course..
I remember Mo stepping up to the plate and going into his batting stance. He stood quietly and had a serious yet peaceful look on his face that I read as, "this is new to me but I'll survive it." The announcers mentioned and the graphic on the screen confirmed: "First career plate appearance."
The pitcher began to work. I remember Mo swinging and missing at one pitch and jumping out of the way of a ball that went up and in, all the while maintaining that peaceful look. Soon, he tapped the ball back to mound and jogged slowly to first base. One of the announcers said, "Not a bad at-bat."
That serious yet peaceful look became what I used to define Mariano Rivera in his career for the next 18 years. Every time I saw him on the mound, I remembered that at-bat, and I thought of a variation of the original message: "this is stressful, but I'll survive it." And survive it he did. In fact, he did more than survive. He became the greatest closer in MLB history.
When he throws that last pitch later this year (hopefully in the World Series), it will be the end of one of the most successful careers in sports history. I am so glad I can say that I witnessed all of it.
Congratulations, Mariano Rivera. Thank you, and may you end your carer on the highest of high notes.