Former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is going back home to Panama next month, and he's taking his former teammates with him for a legendary weekend.
The "Legend Series" between the Yankees and the Marlins will be played March 15-16 at Panama City's Rod Carew Stadium, marking Major League Baseball's first visit to the country since 1947. The games, a rematch of the 2003 World Series, will honor the legacy of Rivera, who retired last season as baseball's all-time saves leader.
The "Legends Series" games count as part of the teams' Spring Training schedule.
"It means a lot to me and I want to thank the teams, because it's an honor and privilege to have the Marlins and my ex-teammates in my beloved Panama," said Rivera, who is serving as an ambassador for the event. "It's been a dream to have games in Panama. It's going to be great to be able to have these games there."
The "Legends Series" will also include charitable events and a gala that will benefit the Mariano Rivera Foundation. Proceeds will go to Children's Hospital in Panama City, the country's largest pediatric hospital. It's a cause close to Rivera's heart. The former closer said he has devoted much of his time to his family, charity and his church since retiring.
"I hope these games can help youth of Panama and motivate them by seeing professionals play," Rivera said. "They need to study, of course, but also do sports, and stay out of the streets. Baseball is not easy, but it's a beautiful sport and I know this is going to be something spectacular. I hope the country takes advantage of it and enjoys something we have not seen in years."
Rivera admits it would have been nice to play in Panama with the Yankees before he retired, but he does not regret walking away from the game. Yes, Rivera misses the competition and being around his teammates at times, but he's happy spending time with his wife and children.
"I'm not on the 25-man roster anymore, but my heart will always be with the Yankees," Rivera said.
The future Hall of Fame pitcher said he is especially looking forward to catching up with Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who recently announced that 2014 will be his final season. Rivera said he hasn't called his old friend yet, because he wants to congratulate him on his career in person.
"I didn't see [Jeter's retirement] coming at all," Rivera said. "For sure, I was one of the guys that thought you would have to pull uniform off of his body to take him out, but I was wrong. It was a surprise to me, but at the same time, he's happy and I'm happy. I just wish him the best. I just continue to pray for him all year so he can enjoy his retirement."
Panama will become the seventh country to host games between two Major League teams behind Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and China. Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy and members of the Yankees trained in Panama in February 1946 and played against a Panamanian professional league All-Star team.
The Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers played exhibition games in Panama during a trip that also included stops in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela in 1947.
Could Major League Baseball open the season in Panama one day? Rivera sure hopes so.
"I hope we can do can do something like that eventually, start the season in Panama," Rivera said. "It would be great for us Panamanians to have that blessing of big league games in Panama."
Those thinking Rivera will pitch sometime during the Legends Series need to think again.
"No, not a chance," Rivera said. "No chance."