For every athlete and sports fan, the video was difficult to watch: Mariano Rivera shagging fly balls during batting practice until he twists his knee on the warning track and wincing in pain, falls to the ground suffering a serious knee injury.
The 42-year old pitcher who has been the Yankees closer for 15 years has adamantly maintained that he will return, though many wonder if the torn ACL and meniscus will be the end of not only his season, but his career.
Bound for the Hall of Fame, Rivera has been to 12 all-star games, and has been part of five World Series Championships, including 1999 when he was named MVP. His list of awards rivaling the presumed size of his bank account, Rivera has accomplished just about everything there is to do in big league baseball.
That leads to two significant questions: 1. Why was such an important player shagging flies during batting practice? And 2. Why would a 40-something millionaire bother trying to come back from such a serious injury?
The answer to both questions is the same: because Mariano Rivera loves the game of baseball.
The same day he suffered the injury, Rivera told reporters if he had it to do again, he'd still be running around the outfield, and running down fly balls. It is a part of the game that he enjoys, and never wanted to give up.
Growing up in Panama, Rivera played baseball with sticks and old milk cartons, and dreamed of becoming a soccer player. But fate had other plans, and by accident Rivera became a pitcher late in his teens, and then went on to become one of the game's all-time greats.
He's earned a reputation for being cool in stressful situations, like late-game closing duties in the World Series. Rivera is also known as a kind and classy competitor, earning praise even from the Yankees' most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox when the news of his injury spread around the league.
Rivera has given back to his American and Panamanian communities, sending funds to his homeland for schools and other facilities. He committed himself to learning English, and encourages other Latin players to do the same.
With nothing left to prove, it would be very easy for Rivera to retire to a peaceful life of luxury. Still, he is committed to returning to the pitcher's mound, and to the outfield to shag fly balls.
From a poor village in Panama to the ultra-bright lights of New York City and Yankees Stadium, Mariano Rivera has earned the love of his countrymen, the adoration of his teammates and the respect of his adversaries. Regardless of his return to the majors, we should celebrate Rivera's career and spirit.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.