After lost year, Yankees' Mariano Rivera ready to pitch again

Mariano Rivera playfully flips the ball after throwing Mariano Rivera playfully flips the ball after throwing out the first pitch before Game 3 of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles. (Oct. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Mariano Rivera has broken records, won World Series, earned more money than most people could ever imagine and become an icon. But during the 2012 season he got to do something even he'd never done before: become a fan.

After being sidelined by an ACL tear in his right knee in early May, the veteran Yankees closer was forced to watch his team's triumphs and struggles from a seat on the couch rather than the dugout.

"I had a chance to scream at the TV, being close to throwing the remote at the TV," Rivera said Tuesday on ESPN radio. "I had a chance to experience all the things like the fans."

All that time away from the game did make him question whether he would return to the Yankees.

"I spent time with my family, my wife, my kids for all those months that I never did for 22 years," Rivera said. "That was different. That was something I never experienced, and I did like it. I love to be home and drive the kids to school and pick them up and work out and do all my things. First time in 23 years I was with my family for the Fourth of July."

Eventually, however, the desire to go out on top - rather than writhing on the Kauffman Stadium warning track in Kansas City - won him over. Rivera signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Yankees on Nov. 29.

"Knowing that I didn't want to leave the game the way I left, the way I ended this year, so that pushed me," he said.

Rivera said his knee feels "great" and is 95 percent recovered. "Getting better every day," he said.

He also feels he'll be the same dominant pitcher he's been since 1996.

"Oh, definitely," said Rivera, who called himself a "young blood" and "spring chicken" at age 43. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be here."

Asked about Alex Rodriguez needing surgery on his left hip, a procedure that will likely keep him out until mid-season, Rivera said he was glad the issue surfaced now instead of during the season.

"It happened so we have to deal with it," he said. "And it happened now so we have a few more months to get it done and get him back on the field. Rehab and come back strong."

Rivera called Rafael Soriano's performance as the fill-in closer during 2012 "tremendous" and said he was the right guy for the job.

"But he was waiting," Rivera said. "Because it wasn't him at the get-go, it was [David] Robertson. He was the right guy, 'cause Robertson didn't have the experience. Soriano had the experience."

And the topic of "fat Derek Jeter" made yet another appearance, after a New York tabloid published a picture of an overweight-looking Jeter with the headline "Derek Eater." Rivera laughed and said both he and Jeter would get fat after they retired.

"We will be in the Caribbean somewhere," he said, "drinking virgin pina coladas, with a belly, taking the sun in."

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