Mariano Rivera: Rags to MLB Riches

English: New York Yankees Pitcher Mariano Rive...

English: New York Yankees Pitcher Mariano Rivera on May 25th, 2008 vs. Seattle Mariners. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mariano Rivera is the most dominant closer in the history of baseball. His cut fastball, or cutter, is considered by many to be the best pitch in the history of the game. He is the all-time saves leader, and he has five World Series rings that he can wear. Of course, he has made millions of dollars over his professional career, which has brought him a long way from his humble roots as the son of a Panamanian fisherman.

Rivera’s journey began in Panama City. He was born on November 29, 1969. His father was a fisherman in the small fishing village of Puerto Caimito. Like almost every boy in Latin America, his earliest athletic experiences were playing soccer. However, he also played baseball as well. The area was so poor that not many people actually owned baseball gloves, bats or balls.

Instead, Rivera and his friends would play games with tree branches for bats. They used milk cartons instead of gloves, and they taped together pieces of old fishing nets to use as balls. Rivera didn’t have his first real leather baseball glove until his dad bought him one at the age of 12.

Rivera liked baseball, but he never thought he would one day make a living at it. Instead, he dreamed of playing soccer professionally like most Latinos. However, he suffered a series of ankle injuries during high school that shattered this dream. He finished school at age 16 and began working on his father’s fishing boat. He had to abandon ship when the boat capsized, and that scared him away from fishing forever.

Soon after that, Rivera started playing on a local amateur baseball team, Panama Oeste. He was the team’s shortstop, and he only started pitching because the team’s normal pitcher was in a slump. His teammates were so impressed with his pitching skills that they convinced the Panama scout for the New York Yankees to give him a tryout. Rivera went to Panama City for a Yankees tryout camp, and the Yankees signed the man who would become one of the greatest players of all-time to a contract worth just $3,000.

When Rivera came to the United States, he did not speak English and was incredibly homesick. Puerto Caimito did not have telephone service at that time, which meant Rivera could only communicate to his family back home by writing long letters.

Rivera made steady progress through the minor leagues, but it was still five years before he was called up to the big leagues. His first few years in the major leagues, Rivera made the minimum salary of $750,000. This is a small figure by American standards, but it is more money than most people in Panama can dream of.

Rivera still goes back to Panama every year. He feels it is a home and that he is a part of it. His riches have never transformed him into a diva. He is one of the most down-to-earth and genuinely friendly players in the game.

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