I guess when you’re up 11.5 games on your rivals, you can afford to take a moment to acknowledge one of their all time greats.
The Red Sox gave Mariano a generous, albeit deserved send off on Sunday night, presenting him with a portrait, an original poem, a signed “42” placard from the Green Monster, a 1934 Fenway Park seat (#42), a check for his foundation and of course, a friendly reminder via video presentation that, “hey, you kind of blew it in ’04.” By all accounts the Red Sox presentation was a huge success. This was made abundantly clear when no one seemed to care that the start of the game had been pushed back about fifteen minutes.
It’s rare that rivals in professional sports take a moment to honor their counterparts, and in most cases, necessitates some sort of terrible tragedy happening first. We saw it after 9/11 and we saw it after the Boston Bombings, where baseball is the furthest thing from everyone’s mind, but the game is played with the hope that for three hours, we can be distracted from the ugly reminders of what humanity is capable of.
What made Sunday night’s sendoff so special was that it didn’t take a tragedy. Just one decent man doing his job. A man who has been so consistent in both performance and demeanor that he serves as a model for not only for how to treat your work, but for how lead your life. Fitting then, that in the most hostile of enemy territory, not one boo was heard during the entirety of the Red Sox lengthy tribute.
I’m not saying that the answer for world peace lies somewhere in this temporary New York-Boston peace. But at the very least, doesn’t it make the 2011 Dodger Stadium beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow seem that much more ludicrous? How about the fact that over in Italy, a soccer match had to be stopped because of the vile, racist insults being spewed at AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli?
Frankly, a majority of sports fans should get their heads checked out. As grown adults, they have no business using the guise of fandom to justify their – at times – grievous actions. But whether Charles Barkley wants to admit it or not, athletes are role models, and fair or not, fans are going to model their behavior on their behavior. Would Bryan Stow just be getting out of the hospital absent the Giants-Dodgers legacy of bench clearing brawls? Would Balotelli have to threaten to walk off the field if his fellow players weren’t themselves spewing racial epithets?
The answers to these questions are at best, complicated. But what Sunday night’s tribute made abundantly clear is that when that rare player emerges who does all the right things, the fans take notice. The sports world would be a much better place if we all followed Rivera’s example.