Enter Sandman, Year 11

Eleven years ago, the Yankees had a pair of Panamain prospects. Newspapers called prospect one “the next Mickey Mantle.” Prospect two, his cousin, was a lanky pitcher who could reach the mid 90s, but was a few years removed from Tommy John surgery.

In the years that followed, one of those players established a Hall of Fame career and is arguably the best ever player in his role. The other prospect floundered as a Yankee, was traded, re-acquired and released after stealing Derek Jeter’s glove and selling it to a memorabilia dealer.

You’ve probably guessed prospect one is Ruben Rivera, the international glove thief. Prospect two is Mariano Rivera.

Today, the Bergen Record published an interesting story about Rivera, the Mariano variety.

As a Yankee fan, I know I’m lucky to have him on “my” team- especially for this long. I actually remember Mo’s first big league game. It was in early May of my senior year of high school. Due to injuries, Mariano was called up to make a start against the California Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County, United States of America , Planet Earth, Sol Solar System, the Milky Way, 92806. I was without cable at the time, and the game was on Channel 11. I watched as Mariano breezed through the lineup the first time through. The second time through, they had his number and he got bombed.

Despite showing occasional flashes of brilliance throughout the rest of ’95, Mariano didn’t really catch on for another year, when Joe Torre started using him as a setup man to John Wetteland. It was then that you could tell he was something special. Then-Twins Manager Tom Kelly said that Mo’s fastball should be “banned from baseball,” and the ’96 Yankees developed a rhythym where if they were leading after six innings, the game was effectively over.

As the story goes, the Yankees let Wetteland go after ’96 and let Mo be the closer. And I’ve been lucky enough to watch Mo close games every April to October since. I’ve even seen him pitch a number of times in person (two of my most memorable are Game 6 of the ’98 ALCS (sorry djl) and Game 4 of the ’99 Series (sorry Stan)).

As great as he’s been, there have been times when he’s made Yankee fans nervous. And I can think of two pitches of his that I’d rather he threw something else.

Over the past 11 years, Rivera has been one of the cornerstones of a great Yankees run. I hope I get to keep watching.

Not bad for a guy who was just the cousin of the guy who was supposed to be the next Mantle.

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