NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera raised his palms with gratitude toward Yankee Stadium's most distant seats, acknowledging the rhythmic chanting of his first name pouring down into sun-splashed Monument Park. His place with the legends is officially secure.
Peeling away its blue-cloth covering with great care, Rivera said he felt an adrenaline rush as he unveiled the symbol of his contributions to the Yankees and to baseball: a pinstriped No. 42 that will forever be on display in recognition of his achievements.
"While I'm still playing, I'm retired already," Rivera said later, with a laugh.
It felt like a final goodbye, but Rivera still has six more games remaining in uniform, three of which will be played in the Bronx. But as the Sandman prepares for his final exit, the Yankees nailed their tribute to the all-time saves leader, giving him a sendoff for the ages.
As he has been all year, Rivera was clearly moved and appreciative of the gestures made in his honor. In what he said were unscripted, spontaneous remarks, Rivera was given the opportunity to clutch a microphone and address the crowd of 49,197.
"To you fans, thank you for 19 years of support," Rivera said. "It has been a great run, guys. You guys have been amazing, you always have been here for me and for the organization. I will never forget that. You guys will have part of my heart here in New York. You have taken me in like one of you guys and I do appreciate that."
Major League Baseball universally retired No. 42 in honor of barrier-breaking great Jackie Robinson in 1997, permitting only players who were wearing the number to continue. Rivera is the last active player to do so.
Upon his introduction by announcers John Sterling and Michael Kay, Rivera earned a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute. Joined by his wife, Clara, and their sons, Mariano Jr., Jafet, and Jaziel, Rivera again waved his arms in gratitude.
Moving through Monument Park, he was flanked by members of the Steinbrenner family as well as Robinson's wife, Rachel, and daughter, Sharon. Neighboring Ron Guidry's retired No. 49 in Monument Park, Rivera's pinstriped No. 42 plaque displaced Robinson's blue No. 42.
Rivera helped unveil a bronze plaque in a new location to honor Robinson, a man Rivera said that he wished he could have met.
"To have Rachel and the Robinson family here, it means a lot to me," Rivera said. "All the respect that I have for the family and for Mr. Jackie Robinson and all he did for us, me being the last one to wear the No. 42, I can't ask for better than that."
Panamanian flags waved in Yankee Stadium's upper deck and white No. 42s were painted along both base lines on what mayor Michael R. Bloomberg officially proclaimed to be "Mariano Rivera Day" in the City of New York.
Joe Torre, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Jeff Nelson, Gene Michael, David Cone, John Wetteland and Gene Monahan were on hand for the ceremony, lauding a man who has collected 652 regular-season saves, plus 42 more in the postseason.
"There is nobody," Torre said, "that is ever going to do what he did out of the bullpen."
Following a video of Rivera's career highlights, the members of Metallica took to the stage in center field and played a live version of Rivera's entry song, "Enter Sandman," in an unannounced surprise.
Outfitted in pinstriped jerseys with "Metallica" in script across the front, singer James Hetfield announced, "This is for you, Mariano!" To those familiar guitar strains, the bullpen gate opened and Rivera strode through.
His spikes crunching on the warning track, Rivera opted not to break into his usual graceful jog; instead, he walked slowly, appearing to savor each step.
"The whole thing was special," Rivera said. "I wasn't expecting something like that. Seeing my ex-teammates, the whole Stadium packed with a lot of flags and fellow Panamanians from Panama, it was a lot of emotions. It was more than what I was thinking, because I didn't know anything. They didn't want to tell me anything. It was great."
Rivera finally reached the infield, where he was amused to see Posada and Williams capturing the moment with their cell phone cameras. Posada later said that he had been "nervous for" Rivera, and Williams remarked that the ceremony showed that the Yankees organization "knows how to reward its heroes."
"I thought it was great. It was well deserved," Derek Jeter said. "I thought it was wonderful, it was emotional and I'm glad I had the opportunity to be here. Mo deserves it."
The Giants gave Rivera a watercolor painting of his June 2007 appearance at AT&T Park, as well as a special Willie Mays-autographed guitar that the Giants worked with Metallica's Kirk Hammett to design. The members of Metallica gave Rivera a guitar speaker cabinet, signed by the band.
On behalf of the New York Yankees Foundation, a $100,000 check was presented to the Mariano Rivera Foundation. Jeter and Joe Girardi then carried a rocking chair made with baseball bats to the mound, where Rivera immediately tried out its comfortable leather seat.
Rivera also received a replica of his retired number and a Waterford crystal version of his glove. As he made his remarks on the field, Rivera thanked his family for supporting his career, as well as his parents for raising him.
He concluded by expressing gratitude to the United States and to his homeland of Panama, as well as for former Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner, a man that he said he loves and misses greatly.
"I want to give thanks to the good Lord for this tremendous organization," Rivera said. "The New York Yankees have been my family. They have been special to me."