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Sandman in Center: New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera Could Be Set to Play Outfield

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Sandman in Center: New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera Could be Set to Play Outfield
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Mariano Rivera.

COMMENTARY | Mariano Rivera appears ready to get the one gift he's been longing for.

As I described earlier this week, the retiring closer's man cave is filling up with parting gifts as he completes his farewell tour. However, this weekend, the New York Yankees pitcher is poised to get his final gift -- the denotation "CF" on his career stat line.

In 2011, the New York Times reported that Rivera told manager Joe Girardi that he wanted to play center field before he retired. When asked about it at the time, Girardi said it was something he would definitely think about and, if Rivera ever told him he was retiring, he would consider doing it toward the end of a season. Girardi then joked that he might get Rivera into the outfield for one batter.

"A guy who hits ground balls or strikes out a lot," Girardi said.

That same year, Rivera told the Sporting News, "I would love to play center field at least for one inning or one out. I told my manager. I don't think it would happen, but I hope so."

However, with the Yankees and Houston Astros both out of contention and with no postseason games to worry about, Girardi has hinted that Rivera's wish may come true this weekend at Houston's Minute Maid Park. And why not?

If anything, it will be fun to see Rivera, who's known for shagging fly balls during batting practice, as anyone who recalls the closer's season-ending injury last season, traverse Minute Maid's most distinctive feature -- Tal's Hill. The 90-foot incline, named for former Astros president Tal Smith, is more than 400 feet away from home plate and has been a challenge for many outfielders. Also, there's a flagpole in play, just as there was at the old Yankee Stadium before it was remodeled in the mid-1970s.

If he makes it to center field, Rivera would join a very short list of Yankees pitchers called to the outfield. The other? Ron Guidry, who did it twice.

On September 29, 1979, Billy Martin sent Guidry to take Bobby Murcer's spot in center field for the ninth inning of what would be a 9-4 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays. The next day, the "Louisiana Lightning" started the final game of the season, tossing three innings of meaningless baseball.

Almost four years later, on August 18, 1983, Martin sent Guidry to cover center field for the completion of the Pine Tar Game. Almost forgotten in Martin's shuffling of the Yankees' defense is the fact that a young first baseman named Don Mattingly moved to second base for the remainder of the inning -- his only career appearance there.

"How many guys get to play center field in Yankee Stadium?" Guidry told the Times last year, before adding that his only regret was that he did not get a chance to make a putout in either of his two appearances.

Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.

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