Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre witnessed many of the greatest moments in Mariano Rivera's illustrious baseball career. Now the former skipper is poised to celebrate what could be the finest achievement in the recently retired closer's lifetime.
Rivera, the Yankees and the Marlins are all going to Panama City, Panama, next week, for two days of fun and baseball in the legendary pitcher's homeland.
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.
"I think it's going to be very nostalgic for Mariano, being down there for his first year during retirement," said Torre, who will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame this summer. "I know the Commissioner and all of Major League Baseball is very interested in the globalization of the game. When I was with the Dodgers, we took trips to Beijing and Taiwan. I've been to Tokyo as a member of the Yankees. It's so important. We know how important the game of baseball is around the world."
Torre, who is currently serving as executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, managed Rivera for 12 seasons with the Yankees, a span that included four World Series championships and six American League pennants. He looks back fondly on his time in New York and his time with Rivera, a man he describes as "everything a manager could ever want."
"I was very fortunate to inherit, not only Mariano, but also Derek Jeter, [Jorge] Posada and [Paul] O'Neill," Torre said. "I know so much is made of what ability players have, but when you are managing someone, the thing that really shines is the character. It means they come to work every day and if they have a setback, they dust themselves off and get back on their feet."
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. The games count as part of the teams' Spring Training schedule.
"When I first took over the Yankees in 1996, we really didn't know where Mariano was going to fit," Torre said. "He was a starting pitcher, we knew he had arm surgery and there was some talk about trading him because we had a couple of closers and relievers. It's a deal that I'm happy never took place, because he has set the bar so high for relief pitchers."
Panama will become the seventh country to host games between two Major League teams, joining 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.
"Forever, people will be aware of the connection between Mariano Rivera, who is not only a great pitcher but a great human being," Torre said. "I know everybody is looking forward to the trip to Panama because it's really a chance to honor a great player and a great native son, and of course, the New York Yankees. That's not a bad combination."