Shag Flies While You Can

Each of us will some day be wheeled off the field looking down mournfully at a broken part of our body.

Yesterday, Mariano Rivera provided one of the most haunting visuals I’ve ever seen. The great relief pitcher for the New York Yankees tore his knee ligaments yesterday in Kansas City going after a fly ball in the outfield during batting practice. He was doing what he loves to do, being an athlete at the peak of his game, goofing around during practice, stretching his body to meet the long lofting flight of a little white ball in a sun-dappled

The video and photos show him grimacing in pain, holding his knee. Then he’s put on a lawn tractor and driven off the field. The last image shows him, facing backwards, leaning over, looking at his knee. The tractor takes him into the darkness of the stadium, the picture fades in the shade of the building opening, and Rivera fades away.

This isn’t a sports blog. But sports often show humanness at its best and worst — often at its most poignant. Jered Weaver, just this week no-hitting the Minnesota Twins, provided a gorgeous image hugging his wife, mother and father on the field after the game. In the arms of his father, who’d been his coach since Little League, he wept. The best part of the game.

I hate the Yankees, as is good and right to do. But Rivera — always such a classy, calm, patrician executioner of batters — if he’d pitched for any other team we could have liked him. But if he’d pitched for any other team the DamnYankees would have bought him.

A sportswriter today said Rivera had been dealt a cruel hand. Nonsense. The guy is wealthy beyond belief, has earned more than enough to take care of his family here and in Panama. His achievements rank him at the top of his profession, and, with 18 seasons playing major-league ball, he had a career few dare even dream about. Asked if he wondered why this had happened to him, he smiled sadly and said “I don’t question the Lord.” Rivera is handling this injury with grace, as he handles his whole life, it seems.

At some point, pieces of our bodies fall apart. Rivera’s 42. He’ll have more systems start failing in the decades ahead. We all will.

In Florida, where I live, I see a lot of people with halting mobility. Parts of me are reaching their expiration date.

Rivera’s injury tells us to do what we love while we can. His job was to come into the game in the ninth inning and kill the other guys’ dreams for the day. But what he loved doing was shagging fly balls free and loose in the outfield during practice.

Let’s take every opportunity we can to shag fly balls, to find the parts of our life and our work that are just about being alive and engaged, stretching up and reaching for the ball.

— Bruce Benidt