New York Yankees' Derek Jeter (2), pitching coach Dave Eiland,...

New York Yankees' Derek Jeter (2), pitching coach Dave Eiland, and Jorge Posada talk with Mariano Rivera. (Oct. 25, 2009) Credit: John Dunn

BOSTON - Mariano Rivera steadied himself against his locker as fits of laughter escaped his lips.

The images flooded his mind all at once, transporting him back almost two decades; back when he was still dreaming of his major-league break and Derek Jeter was only a few years removed from adolescence.

"When I saw Jeter, he was only like 150 pounds,'' Rivera said in between giggles. "So skinny, oh my God. He was skinnier than me. No doubt about that."

Rivera had come to see his cousin Ruben play in a minor-league game in the early '90s. But it was Jeter who caught his eye.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, who is this kid?' " Rivera recalled. "He was so skinny, but he hit the ball good. Hard. I was impressed by how he hit the ball, how he conducted himself. He wasn't something on the field - he was making errors and things like that. But you could see the potential. And in baseball, that's what hits you."

Rivera never could have imagined that the scrawny, baby-faced kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., one day would become the captain of the Yankees - and more importantly, one of his closest confidants.

On Tuesday, Rivera and Jeter, along with Jorge Posada, made history, becoming the only trio in any major sport to play 16 consecutive seasons together. In the era of free agency, one player - let alone three - rarely stays on one team for that long.

The trio has been playing together since Bill Clinton's first term as president.

"They're like my brothers. We've played together here for 16 years, but we also played together in the minor leagues," said Jeter, 35, who met Posada and Rivera in 1992 and 1993, respectively, on the Class-A Greensboro Hornets.

"We've been playing together for a long, long time. You spend more time with your teammates than you actually do with your own family."

Said Posada: "To tell you the truth, the early memories are fun because we were very naïve, very different, and now we're very similar. It's kind of strange that we were so different from each other. We were naïve about everything: the world, baseball . . . just life."

Asked to share funny stories from their youth, the 38-year-old catcher chuckled and said: "We like to keep those to ourselves."

Their bond is about more than just familiarity. It's about common goals, common values, and above all else, trust. They support each other on the field and off - in times of joy (Jeter was the best man at Posada's 2000 wedding) and personal tragedy (such as the accidental electrocutions of two of Rivera's relatives in 2004).

"We're always there for each other," Rivera, 40, said. "Always, always, always."

Had it not been for Andy Pettitte's three-year stint in Houston, the history-making trio would have been a foursome.

Said Posada: "Andy and Mo, I know what they're thinking with a look. And with Derek it's the same thing. They don't have to say much and I know exactly what they're thinking. It's kind of strange that we are in sync with even saying a word."

Rivera said he's more than "just lucky" to have these relationships.

"I consider myself blessed," he said. "It's something special. We all have talent, but God has blessed us with a relationship that a lot of people don't have."

Even after 16 seasons and five world championships, Rivera said he can't believe how quickly time has flown by. "It doesn't feel that long," he said.

Then, after a slight pause, he smiled again.

"Well, sometimes it does."

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