Before he says anything else, legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera makes one thing clear when speaking to first-, second- and third-graders from P.S. 175 Wednesday at the FDNY’s Engine 59/Ladder 30 stationhouse in Harlem.
“These guys save lives,” said Rivera, baseball’s all-time saves leader, of the firefighters. “I saved games.”
Rivera, who of course retired from the big leagues following the 2013 season, was at the stationhouse as part of his role as a partner and ambassador in The Hartford’s Junior Fire Marshall Program. The insurance company has named the Yankee great an Honorary Junior Fire Marshall and is using events like Wednesday’s to teach kids about fire safety. October is “Fire Prevention Month” and, notably, The Hartford’s Home Fire Index ranks New York 14th among the 100 U.S. cities with the highest home fire risk.
“I’m honored to be here to teach these kids a life lesson,” Rivera said. “The best thing we can do for these kids is to keep them safe.”
Of course, given his stature in Big Apple baseball circles, any conversation with Rivera inevitably leads to the Yankees, who on Tuesday were eliminated by the Red Sox in the ALDS in four games. Rivera, who was at the game earlier this week, used one word to describe his feelings after the final out.
“Disappointed,” he said. “Because I believed they had the team to go all the way. There’s no one to point fingers at. That’s just the game. As a player, as a Yankee family member, it’s hard, but I’m sure the guys gave their best.”
When asked what area he thinks the Yankees need to improve on for 2019 and beyond, he’s quick with a response.
“Pitching,” he said. “I’m sure that’s something the Yankees front office will try to work with. The name of the game is pitching.”
Rivera, who is enjoying retirement and has no plans to get back into baseball as either a manager or pitching coach, was also quick to come to the defense of manager Aaron Boone and the team’s current leadership. Boone has been criticized for his handling of the pitching staff, specifically during Game 3, when he stayed with starter Luis Severino into the fourth inning and brought in Lance Lynn in a relief role.
The former member of the “Core Four” also sees leaders on the current roster.
“I think Aaron has done an amazing job,” Rivera said. “And with Severino, Didi [Gregorius], [Brett] Gardner and CC Sabathia there’s no lack of leadership. They have a tremendous group. Unfortunately, they just weren’t able to get the big hit at the right time. That’s baseball.”