By HOWIE RUMBERG AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Mariano Rivera wasn’t prepared for the question. He didn’t have a baseball, so a man wearing a Mets caps tossed him a pristine ball, and the great closer happily showed off the grip that has made him the major league’s saves leader.
There was no rivalry among this group, just plenty of gratitude.
Rivera met with a small group of Mets fans and employees in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field on Monday before the first game of this year’s Subway Series as part of his farewell tour. He has been getting together with people at each ballpark the Yankees visit this year after announcing in March his plan to retire at the end of the season.
“Playing here for so many years against each other, I mean, we had some good times, and some tough losses here. But at the same time, I mean, it’s been great,” Rivera said. “They’ve always been respectful and appreciate what we do.”
The lone remaining player to wear Robinson’s number sat in front of a sculpture of the Brooklyn Dodgers star’s No. 42, and chatted about everything from his cut fastball to the 2000 World Series that pitted New York’s teams against one another in a true Subway Series.
Mets fans have plenty of reasons to be grateful for Rivera’s retirement _ 20 of his 626 career saves have come against them in interleague play, and he notched two more in that 2000 series, won by the Yankees in five games.
The Mets will honor Rivera before facing the Yankees on Tuesday night in what will be the final regular-season game between the crosstown rivals.
Rivera said his get-togethers with folks that work behind the scenes and loyal fans are different in every city. New Yorkers, naturally, know more about his career.
“They all have their own personality. The last one was more sentimental I would say with what is going on with the family and the kid with cancer. The other one in the wheelchair. This one, it’s more fun,” Rivera said. “People from the organization and long-time ticket holders. I heard more `Thanks,’ and instead of me saying, `Thanks.’ It’s wonderful.”
He was asked about his most cherished accomplishment off the field that was made possible by his baseball career. The church he helped build in a suburb of New York City, he readily answered.
The group learned that Rivera, who often appears to be above the fray when it comes to rivalries and back-page taunting, actually has a long memory. He cited outfielder Benny Agbayani’s prediction that the Mets would win the 2000 Series in five games as an example of not stirring things up.
But the question that drew the most laughs came from a fan who needed to know: Did he think Mike Piazza’s Game 5 drive to center field that ended up as the final out of the Series had a chance to leave Shea Stadium.
“No,” Rivera said without hesitation.
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