Mariano Rivera’s Hall of Fame call felt like World Series triumph

Mariano Rivera never considered himself to be better than any other baseball player.

But six months ago when the Baseball Hall of Fame called to tell him that he was not only welcomed into the Hall, but was the first player ever to be unanimously elected, Rivera took another look at himself.

While sitting in his home in Rye, the 49-year-old former closer was surrounded by his wife, Clara, and three children — Jaziel, Mariano Jr. and Jafet — as well as other friends and family when he was told there was a spot for him in Cooperstown.

And before BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell could finish the words, “You’re the first player to be unanimously elected,” the room erupted.

“I told someone that [to be the first] feels like when you just won the championship, the World Series. That level of intensity it was,” Rivera said during a conference call on Thursday, recalling when he first heard the news. “I feel honored, I feel humbled, that I was the one that did that. I never considered myself better than anybody. But the Lord blessed me with that. I thank the Lord for that, because it won’t change my life but it’s something that you know that you were the first one. That’s what’s special.”

The 13-time All-Star said he’ll carry the honor with dignity and humility, because he genuinely feels like he doesn’t deserve to hear his name called next weekend in Cooperstown. The one thing he said he does know is that he tried his best to respect the game of baseball, the teams he faced and his peers.

Rivera, who made his major league debut for the Yankees in 1995, said he sometimes thinks to himself, “How did I do this?” When reflecting on his record-breaking statistics and success in the postseason, the five-time World Series champion credits his God-given talent and the support from his home in Panama.

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To Rivera, representing Panama — and the small village where he grew up, Puerto Caimito — is the pinnacle of his career. And celebrating this honor, as the second Panamanian to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, after Rod Carew in 1991, is something he hopes to share with his country.

“It was an honor to represent my country, and represent it well. I’m sure that there will be some [Panama] flags going up in Cooperstown on July 21, [and] I will feel proud,” said Rivera, who promised he will conduct half of his acceptance speech in Spanish. “I will feel proud. I don’t know how sentimental I might get or not, but I definitely will be proud that my people will be there supporting me. And sharing it with me the way that they did throughout my whole career.

“It’s a small country, but yet we have two Hall of Famers: Rod Carew No. 1 and Mariano Rivera No. 2. That’s something special that we should be proud of as Panamanians.”

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