* Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera took time Tuesday to say thanks to long-time Blue Jays employees, including Shelia Stella. Photo: Michelle Prata. .... 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2013 Canadian collegians playing summer ball 2013 Canadians in College Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
Mariano Rivera sat in the old Founder’s Club before Tuesday’s game to say thanks to 26 long-time Blue Jays employees.
In his final year the New York Yankees closer has been thanking clubhouse attendants, grounds keepers and then going upstairs to meet front-office people, autograph a ball, pose for a picture and answer questions.
Shelia Stella, part of the Jays ticket office for 29 years, asked Rivera about the other side of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner?
“Mr. George was loyal to his workers,” Rivera told his captive audience. “I have so much respect for him. He put us in the best hotels, on the best flights, solved families’ problems. He was more than my boss.”
Seated alongside Yankees crack P.R. whiz Jason Zillo, Rivera told how in the last couple of years of Steinbrenner’s life the Boss would be driven around the Yankees complex, never leaving before saying goodbye.
“I’d be running or shagging flies in the outfield, someone would say ‘The Boss wants to see you,’” said Rivera. “He’d ask ‘you OK?’ I say yes. He’d say ‘I love you,’ I’d say ‘I love you Boss.’”
Rivera recalled of being on the mound in Phoenix in 2001 when the Yankees lost Game 7 on a Luis Gonzalez single and Steinbrenner came to his locker.
“I looked him in the eye and said I did my best Boss, but it wasn’t good enough. We hugged. If there was one thing I could change, I wish he was still alive.”
As Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto said at the all-star game: “Everyone gets mad when they lose, but not to Rivera, he’s so honourable.”
Rivera asked Jays employees to tell them their names and department before asking questions, saying "OK who was here from the championship years ... back-to-back, right?"
“My name is Mary-Anne and I was wondering ...” asked Mary-Anne Sturley.
“Mariano?” asked Rivera to laughter.
“No, Mary-Anne,” said Sturley who broke in with Dave Stieb during the 1979 season. She asked Rivera the players he wanted to meet most as a rookie? Mickey Mantle was the answer.
Before Rivera arrived Patti Deangelis, Aramark Sports manager for 25 years, was asked her favorite all-time non-Jays player? She picked Mantle and later told Rivera the story 1-on-1.
“Mantle was here signing years ago and a guy in the clubhouse gave me a ball, it made me cry,” said Deangelis. “I told Mariano this ball is going beside Mickey Mantle’s.”
Before Rivera arrived another woman asked "do you think I could ask him to send Derek Jeter upstairs when he's finished." Patting he leg she said: "he could sit right here."
Glenn Jackson from the ticketing asked Rivera what celebrities he wanted to meet: President George W. Bush and Billy Crystal.
“I always liked Billy’s sense of humour,” Rivera said. “We’ve met, we’re good friends.”
Hardest to strike out? Edgar Martinez (“I’m glad he retired.”). Mike Andrejek in merchandising asked Rivera if he knew how many jerseys of his would have sold in Toronto? Susan Woollard, a nurse for 23 years, thanked Rivera for his time.
Day one employee Howard Starkman asked Rivera how he wound up with uniform No. 42?
“When I was first called up I had No. 58, next time I was called up No. 42 was in my locker,” said Rivera, who said he was naive and didn’t know the history until Jackie Robinson’s number was retired in 1997.
“The number is a blessing, a responsability,” said the last man who will ever wear No. 42.
Rivera said his cutter came from God, no one taught him the pitch.
“In the bullpen, Joe Giradi would be catching and yelling ‘throw the ball straight,’” He told Giradi he was throwing it straight. “God knew I needed the pitch to be successful.”
Rivera is a favorite of writers for his professional attitude, his classy manner and seldom forcing anyone to re-write ninth-inning leads.
We’ve seen 100s of Rivera’s 646 saves from April to Octobers.
My favorite Rivera moment came when he wasn’t even on a mound.
Micheline Eves and Claudette Scrafford brought mom Dorothy Massia behind the Roger Centre velvet rope as a birthday present during batting practice in April.
Yankee coach Tony Pena saw Massia’s Yankee T-shirt, said hello and was back in five minutes with Rivera for a long visit.
When it came time to leave Scrafford said: “See you in Cooperstown in 2019.”
“Hope to see you there,” said Rivera, who then looked birthday gal Massia, 70 years young, in the eye adding “and you too.”