NEW YORK -- The old Yankee Stadium was dubbed The House That Ruth Built, but the new Yankee Stadium rests on a road named for the team's greatest closer. A host of Yankee fans feted Mariano Rivera on Monday, when they renamed the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue in his honor.
Rivera, who entered Babe Ruth Plaza to the familiar strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," was visibly touched by the gesture as he sat and listened to several tributes.
Thomas Ferrara, a longtime fan of the team, came up with the idea to re-name the intersection closest to Yankee Stadium, and he thanked the politicians and fans who helped make it happen.
"Just like every one of you, I'm a lifelong Yankee fan," Ferrara said at the start of the ceremony. "Welcome to Babe Ruth Plaza, and for the last time, the intersection of 161st Street and River Avenue. In just a few moments, this will forever be known as 161st Street and Rivera Avenue."
Ferrara said that the fan-drive initiative took petitions and signatures to make it a reality, and in the end, the fans even paid for the street sign for the newly dubbed Rivera Avenue. But now, fans will have a new place to meet, just like the gigantic bat at the old Stadium that served as an iconic landmark.
Ferrara started the campaign last September, and he did it because he believed that Rivera's sportsmanship, accomplishments and philanthropic efforts deserved a fitting landmark. Ferrara found thousands of like-minded fans, and the idea even won the support of several elected officials.
The City Council passed a resolution to rename the intersection last December, and outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg signed it into law before the end of the year. With Rivera in town to promote his upcoming book, "The Closer," Monday was a perfect time to unveil the street sign.
"This spot right here is really the focal point right now of the Bronx," said Ferrara. "Mariano is the bridge from the old Yankee Stadium to the new Yankee Stadium. There's an old saying that all roads lead to the Bronx. As of today, all roads in the Bronx lead to 161st street and Rivera Avenue."
Lonn Trost, the chief operating officer of the Yankees, delivered some remarks in support of the occasion on Monday, and he paused several times to allow the overhead 4 train to pass. Trost gave a long account of Rivera's accomplishments, and he stopped for a moment to think about his impact.
In every sport, Trost said, there is a natural debate as to who may be the best at a given position. But in baseball, said Trost, Rivera has rendered that argument moot with casual dominance.
"There's one exception to that rule: No one, nowhere, can ever doubt, argue or suggest that Mariano Rivera is not and was not the best closer in the history of baseball," said Trost. "It's more likely than not that nobody will ever surpass his ability, his record, his character, his moral fiber and his humility."
Rivera, a 13-time All-Star, led the American League in saves three times and retired as the game's all-time leader in career saves (652). The five-time World Series champion has seen so many capacity crowds at Yankee Stadium, but on Monday, he felt the importance of the moment.
"I've been pitching for 23 years, facing All-Star Games and World Series games. But this is tough," Rivera told the crowd. "I'd like to thank the New York Yankees for allowing me to play for 19 years with them, and allowing me to contribute to a beautiful community like the Bronx."
Rivera had his family with him on Monday, and he got to climb a ladder and physically pull the covering off the Rivera Avenue street sign. But before he did that, Rivera had the opportunity to address the crowd, which was chanting his name and clapping every time he paused for emphasis.
"Thank you for everything you have done," said Rivera. "And the most important [part] is you guys: The fans made this possible. You guys allowed me to play the game that I love. You guys were here for me for 19 years, day in and day out. It didn't matter if it rained. It didn't matter if it was hot. It didn't matter if it was 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. Sometimes we played that late, but you guys were there."
The street sign was just the latest in a flood of late-career honors for the reliever. Rivera earned the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award in 2013, and his name will be on the trophy annually awarded to the best reliever in the American League.
Rivera's career began all the way back in 1995, and he finished more games (952) than any pitcher in baseball history. But now, as he closed out the ceremony and put another punctuation mark on his career, he could only stop and think about all the people who will tread his street in the future.
"I thank you for every effort you guys have made," Rivera said in closing. "All the businesses around here at 161st and River Avenue -- Rivera Avenue now -- thank you. Thank you very much."