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Mariano Rivera proud to be a Hall of Famer . . . and a Panamanian

Former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera throws out the

Former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera throws out the first pitch before the start of the game against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium on March 28. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Esto es para los panameños.

In Spanish, that means, “this is for the Panamanians” — essentially, part of the message Mariano Rivera intends to convey next week when the Yankees closer is officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And at least a portion of that speech, Rivera said during a conference call Thursday, will be in Spanish. Rivera is only the second Panamanian to be inducted into the Hall, the other being infielder Rod Carew. He’s also the first player — Panamanian or otherwise – to be unanimously selected.

“Representing Panama to me is the pinnacle,” Rivera said, recalling growing up in the tiny fishing village of Puerto Caimito, where they made baseballs out of fishing nets. “Representing the highest level there is in baseball, to me, it was a privilege and an honor to represent my country and represent it well. I’m sure there will be some [Panamanian] flags [waving] in Cooperstown that July 21.”

That’s when Rivera, along with five others — Yankees teammate Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Harold Baines and Lee Smith — will be inducted. Rivera, a 13-time All Star, goes down as the most accomplished closer in baseball history: 652 saves, a 2.21 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a 0.70 postseason ERA. 

Rivera said he will say the first portion of his speech in English — the language he learned in the minor leagues after growing frustrated by miscommunication — and then address the Hispanic contingent in Spanish.

“I will feel proud,” he added. “I don’t know how sentimental I will get or not, but definitely, my people will be [there] supporting me like they did in my career…We have two Hall of Famers…We should be proud, Panamanians. We should be proud.”

All this celebration has allowed Rivera to look back on a remarkable 16-year career, one that was distinguished by domination in the most stressful situations. Rivera, as he’s done throughout his career and into retirement, credited God when asked about his success in high-leverage environments. He appeared in seven World Series, and was on the mound four times when the Yankees clinched a championship. He only came up short in that situation once, in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, when Luis Gonzalez hit a bloop RBI single against a drawn-in infield to win it for the Diamondbacks. 

“I ask the same question: How I did this,” Rivera said. “It’s incredible. It’s amazing. It’s not because it’s myself. I would say that to anybody…That only happens because of the grace of God.”

And Rivera said he got to experience that World Series-winning feeling one more time, in January, after his unanimous election.

“It was some kind of shock,” he said. “It feels like when you just won the championship, the World Series…It’s humbling. I don’t deserve it. I don’t consider myself better than anybody else. I did my best for the game of baseball…and at the end, the Lord compensated me with that.”

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