NEW ROCHELLE, NY – Legendary Major League Baseball closer Mariano Rivera
visited Iona College to speak to the community about his “Journey of Faith.” Rivera’s visit was part of the Office of Mission and Ministry’s LifeTalk series. The future Hall of Famer starred for the New York Yankees for 17 years until his retirement in 2013. Since then, Rivera has built a church in New Rochelle called Refugio de Esperanza (“Refuge of Hope”) and continues his philanthropic efforts all over the world. He is a devout Christian and spreads his faith and beliefs in an effort to inspire others to follow his journey.
Rivera’s LifeTalk took place in Murphy Auditorium in front of an at-capacity crowd of students, faculty and alumni. The program began with an introduction by campus minister, Matthew Crowe ’19
, whose efforts brought Rivera to Iona. Following an opening prayer by Stephanie Myhal ‘15,
Rivera took the stage - or more accurately the floor, since he wanted to be closer and more personal with the audience - and began his discussion on faith.
Rivera began with a story about growing up in Panama and playing baseball in the streets with sticks and without cleats. This led to playing on a more organized team called Panamá Oeste as a shortstop before his inevitable transition to pitcher. Rivera shared his initial dread of pitching, which is the ultimate legacy he left on the sport. He wanted to be on the field every day and get a chance to take a turn at bat. It was his ability on the mound that led his teammates to tip off Chico Heron, a Yankee scout. Rivera earned an invitation to a tryout camp in Panama City. There, Herb Raybourn, the head of the ball club’s Latin American operations was impressed by Rivera’s potential and signed him for a mere $2,000 in early 1990. Rivera came to America without any English-speaking ability and began by playing for the Yankees’ farm team in the Gulf Coast League. Little regarded as a prospect, he was left unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft. Imagine how history would have changed had the Florida Marlins or the Colorado Rockies seen what was to come. After years of playing his way through the Yankees’ minor league system, Rivera played his first big league game in 1995. He earned his first save a year later and when it was all said and done, finished with a Major League Baseball record 652 career saves to go along with 1,173 strikeouts.
Throughout Rivera’s talk, he not only spoke of his life’s journey, but the role his faith played in it.
"The Lord is the one that's opening the door, not men," Rivera told the audience. “Without the Lord, I would not be where I am today. I instilled my trust and faith in the Lord and in return, I was granted the ability to make a difference.”
Rivera believes that the Lord made him what he is today.
To conclude, Rivera thanked those in attendance for coming, remarking how it was a privilege for him and not the audience. He interacted with the crowed, taking part in a trivia contest with questions ranging from the date of his first World Series win to his favorite Bible verse. Rivera spent this time laughing and interacting with the audience, demonstrating his exciting personality and compassion.
“Mr. Rivera brought a new perspective on faith and compassion and paralleled it with the morals and values we treasure here at Iona College” said Kelly Farrell ’19
. “The talk had an impressive turnout and an even greater impact.”
Rivera and his family have been involved with Iona College over the last several years. He and his wife, Clara
, received the College’s Blessed Edmund Rice Humanitarian Award in 2014 at Iona’s annual Scholarship Awards Gala. Rivera was also the keynote speaker at the Iona College baseball team’s First Pitch Dinner in 2015. His son, Mariano III
, is a 2015 graduate of Iona College and is currently a relief pitcher in the Washington Nationals organization.