A Hero On and Off the Field

Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera

Given the way I worshiped baseball players as a kid, it warms my heart to learn of players who accept the responsibility of being a role model and express it gracefully and with compassion. Mariano Rivera plays that role beautifully.

This article, Exit Sandman: Baseball bids adieu to Mariano Rivera, by Tom Verducci in the September 23, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated.

by Tom Verducci

Rivera thought about retiring last season, but when he blew out his knee shagging batting practice fly balls in Kansas City on May 3, 2012, he vowed he would not leave baseball on the back of a cart. Knowing this would be his final season, he approached Zillo with an idea: In each road city he wanted to personally meet “behind-the-scenes” people who had dedicated their lives to baseball or had known illness or tragedy. While baseball wanted to say goodbye to Rivera, with the attendant going-away gifts and photo ops, Rivera wanted to say goodbye to baseball, which for him meant all the people who toil in anonymity.

Mariano Rivera meeting the Bresette family in Kansas City on May 11, 2013. (Photo courtesy of John Sleezer/Landov)

Mariano Rivera meeting the Bresette family in Kansas City on May 11, 2013.
(Photo courtesy of John Sleezer/Landov)

On May 11, Rivera met Ryan Bresette, his wife, Heather, and their three sons, Joe, 13, Sam, 9, and Tyler, 6, in the media room at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. (The Bresettes’ daughter, Anna, 14, was unable to attend the pregame gathering because of a soccer game.) Bresette worked as a clubhouse attendant for the Royals from 1982 to ’94 and had never met Rivera.

On March 22 the Bresettes, while returning home from a vacation in Florida, had been standing next to a mammoth flight-status display board in the -Birmingham, Ala., airport when the board, estimated to weigh more than 300 pounds, fell on the family. Luke Bresette, their 10-year-old son, was killed. Heather suffered two broken legs. Sam suffered a broken leg and head injuries.

Ryan Bresette: It was only seven or eight weeks out from the accident. My wife was in a wheelchair. Getting around was difficult. But we decided this would be a huge bright spot. It was an opportunity to put smiles on our kids’ faces, which is the Number 1 priority in our lives. It was three or four hours before the game, and there were probably three or four other families there. Mariano came in and just lit up the room. That big smile, the bright eyes. . . .

People started talking and introducing themselves. I said, “We’re the family involved in the Birmingham, Alabama, accident and lost our son.”
He said, “I know. God bless you.” I started to get emotional and couldn’t talk anymore. My wife took over and said, “Luke would have loved this. Luke loved baseball. He loved all sports, but baseball was his very favorite sport.” And then she started to get choked up.

Then our son Joe blurts out, “But Luke hated the Yankees!” The room erupted with laughter. Mariano just loved it. It broke the ice and the tension in the room.

Mariano addressed each one of our children and said, “Luke will always be with you. There is a plan for everything. We don’t always know what it is, but we have to keep putting one step forward at a time. My situation is nowhere near what you are going through. I had an injury right here in Kansas City and overcame it to play again. My only message is you have to keep on trying and keep on giving effort.”

I just asked my wife, “What would you want to say about what that day was like?” She said, “Mariano provided hope and inspiration at a time when they needed it the most.” The best part, and it never made the papers, was after the meet and greet was over my nine-year-old said, “Mariano, if you pitch tonight, would you give me the ball from the last out?” Mariano looked at him and said, “You got it. It’s yours.”

Our seats were all the way in rightfield behind the foul pole, to accommodate the wheelchair. Mariano came in to pitch the ninth. By the time we packed up, with three kids and a wheelchair, I said, “We’re never going to make it around the concourse [to the Yankees’ dugout]. Let’s just go home.”

I’m literally pulling out of our parking spot when I get a call from the Royals. They ask, “Can you come back in?” I said, “Why?” They said, “As soon as Mariano got into the dugout his first question was, ‘Where is the family I promised the ball to?'”

The Royals meet us, and they take us to the clubhouse level. Mariano comes out and says, “Sam, what did you ask me before the game?” Before he answered I said to myself, He remembers Sam’s name! Sam answers, “If you pitched would you give me the ball from the last out?”

Mariano says, “That’s right.” He opens up a bag and says, “Here it is.” You could tell by the sticker on it. It had been authenticated by MLB. I just looked at Mariano and I said, “Thank you very much. You have no idea how much this means.”

About six weeks later I got a call from [the Royals]. It had dawned on Mariano that he had not autographed the baseball. They put me in contact with a lady from his charitable foundation. Mariano wanted me to send the ball back to him so he could sign it and send it back.

This is something I haven’t told too many people. When Mariano came over to me, I stuck out my hand to shake his hand, and he gave me a hug, pulled me close and whispered in my ear, “You’re a stronger and braver man than I ever could be.”

Click here to view all my baseball-related posts.


Phil is the author of Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, a comprehensive guide to living a spiritual life. Who will benefit from reading it?

Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to start one
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Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents on Amazon.

Order it at GodIsLogical.com.

In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
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SiSe_fullcover_final.inddPhil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent people he interviewed, including Joan Borysenko, Deepak Chopra, geneticist Dr. Francis Collins, acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford, Dr. Larry Dossey, Wayne Dyer, Dan Millman, Caroline Myss, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, Dr. Bernie Siegel, James Van Praagh, singer Billy Vera, Doreen Virtue, Neale Donald Walsch, and bassist Victor Wooten.

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