The more bats he broke with his classic split-finger fastball, the more Rivera caught up on his Yankees history. He watched the videos, filled in the blanks of a Central American childhood. He became a regular stop on Berra’s clubhouse roaming, fascinated by the story behind the 14-year absence and reemergence. Unless he was pressed, Rivera didn’t say a whole lot but there was little he didn’t see.
He took special note of the relationship between Berra and Guidry, watching them come and go over the years. “That is real love, something very special,” he said.
From their first conversation on the back fields of Fort Lauderdale, Rivera’s friendship with Guidry also grew by leaps and bounds. Early in the spring, when pitchers strengthen their arms with long tossing drills, Rivera typically chose Guidry as his partner, even as Guidry pushed toward 60 and his stamina faded.
“I wouldn’t tell that son of a gun that I had to ice my arm every day,” Guidry said, stubborn to the point of pain.
On the average day, he was good for about 20 long tosses right into Rivera’s chest before fatigue would set in. The toll on the older man at that point became obvious. Guidry’s throws lost steam. Fewer went where he wanted them to go.
“So what would Mo do?” Guidry said. “He’d take a couple of steps forward to make it easier for me.”
Just as Guidry took care of Berra on the golf course, Rivera made sure Guidry was not embarrassed on the ball field. He did it without having to be asked because as Guidry said, “There are unspoken things, part of the camaraderie and trust.”
And while Guidry wasn’t planning to be around spring training when he was 80, he could see himself back at Yankee Stadium on some future Old Timers Day, old and rickety, but still spry enough to climb the dugout steps and wave his cap once more to the crowd.
Which younger Yankee legend would be perfectly positioned to watch out for him as he planted a foot on that first step? Who would remind him to go slow, as Guidry had done for Berra in the years after his return?
He couldn’t think of any man he would rather have to save him from a fall than Mariano Rivera.