Dipoto not immune to Mariano's legend
GM on hand as Yankees closer thanks Angels employees
ANAHEIM -- As part of the farewell tour to his illustrious career, iconic Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has established a tradition on the road: Once in every opponents' ballpark, usually in the middle game of a series, he'll conduct a Q&A session with the longtime, behind-the-scenes employees who never get recognized.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto took that as an opportunity to bring along his 16-year-old, baseball-loving son, Jonah.
Had his son not been here, though, he would've sat in anyway.
"Oh, heck yeah," Dipoto said. "He's got a lot of life left in front of me, but the reality is it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, too."
So there was Dipoto, still not jaded by the game that dominates his life, listening intently to every soft-spoken word Rivera uttered, chiming in about how we should appreciate players before they say goodbye and standing in line to pose for a photo.
For nearly an hour in the Angel Stadium news-conference room prior to Saturday's game, Rivera -- speaking at the site of his Major League debut, a May 1995 loss as a starting pitcher -- sat with 15-20 Angels employees, to answer their questions and, more importantly, to thank them for their tireless, under-appreciated work for the game that has given him so much.
Former Angels and Yankees legend Jim Abbot -- the losing pitcher in the first game Rivera saved -- on May 17, 1996 -- called him "a modern-day Lou Gehrig."
As Rivera said: "It's never too late to say thank you."
"Quite frankly, just having had a chance to experience it, I think it's one of the coolest things I've seen in baseball, that a player who's accomplished what he's accomplished would take the time to recognize people that don't get recognized -- and that's what he's doing," Dipoto said, about an hour before the Angels honored Rivera on the field with a six-foot oil painting of him.
"I think it's remarkable. He has a great heart, has had a wonderful career, and he's the most impactful relief pitcher that's ever pitched."
Dipoto broke into the Majors two years before Rivera debuted and retired 13 years earlier. He knows how fickle the life of a reliever can be. It's why Rivera's success with only one pitch -- record 631 saves, 2.20 ERA, five World Series rings -- is so impressive and improbable.
"And it's not just his ability to spin a cutter," Dipoto said. "It's who he is as a person, it's his work ethic, it's how he carries himself, it's the fact he's probably still the best closer in the league and he's going to walk away because that's what his heart is telling him to do. I think that's remarkable."