I dare you. I dare you to say something bad about Mariano Rivera.
He's the New York Yankees closer — a team known to inspire hatred in the 29 other fanbases. But Rivera, their record-setting, soon-to-retire bullpen stalwart is showing all of baseball what a class act he is.
As part of his last lap around baseball stadiums, Rivera is doing a "farewell tour." It's not like the Cher farewell tour, where people pay 100 bucks to come bask in celebrity. It's Rivera talking to people behind the scenes in each park — the stadium employees, the grounds crew, the fans, the not-always-seen cogs in the baseball experience. It's a meet-and-greet with the ordinary folks, the people behind the baseball stars.
He did one of these Wednesday in Cleveland, and according to the Associated Press, told the crowd of 25 at the hour-long gathering:
"I appreciate what you guys do," Rivera said. "We see mostly what goes on when we're on the field and not what's going on behind the scenes. I wanted to say thank you for everything that you guys do, for the love and passion you have for your team. It doesn't matter if you are a Yankee fan or not. You are a baseball fan."
In Cleveland, one of the people he met was John Adams, the fan who has been beating a drum at Indians games for 40 years. Rivera answered questions, telling folks that former Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez was the toughest hitter he faced and recalling memories of facing the dangerous Indians teams of the 1990s.
The idea of a "farewell tour" is something Rivera, 43, said he wanted to do after he announced his retirement this spring. So the communications departments of the Yankees and the teams they're visiting confer and pick out some folks to meet with Mo.
From the Wall Street Journal's story:
"When I retired, I wanted to do something different, something that people don't see," Rivera said. "It doesn't always have to be the same on the field. There's a lot of other people that run the teams. They are here but we don't see them."
He's already baseball's all-time saves leader, so it's not like Rivera is trying to impress anybody to get Hall of Fame votes or leave a lasting impression. But memories are being made, surely both for him and the people he's meeting. Consider this from the AP:
Mary Forkapy has worked for the Indians since 1996, handling the team's payroll. She shook hands with Rivera, posed for a picture with his valuable right arm around her shoulder and accepted a baseball with the signature of the future Hall of Famer.
"It was very genuine, very heartfelt, very nice," she said of her one-on-one time with Rivera. "He told me I was a very important person."
So did this soften her hatred toward the Yankees?
"A little," she said.
Mariano Rivera will, no doubt, have plenty of opportunities when he leaves baseball. The way things are going with this tour, he might consider running for public office.