Father Time, Still Undefeated
The Yankees have numerous rivals. The Red Sox (division). The Mets (cross-town). The Dodgers (11 World Series matchups). But these Yankees — this particular squad — have a bigger rival. Father Time.
Derek Jeter is 37. Alex Rodriguez is 36. The team’s most-anticipated call-up from the minor leagues is Andy Pettitte, age 39, returning from a year in retirement. Their best hitter during last season’s postseason loss to the Tigers was the now-retired Jorge Posada, who turned 40 in August.
And Rivera. Mariano Rivera — the one who, until last night, seemed most immune to the effects of age and time — is the same age as the never-to-be-worn-again jersey number on his back: 42.
I’m a Yankees fan. I’d be rooting for these guys whether I were 10 or 80. But these guys aren’t just any Yankees. They’re my Yankees. I’m 39. Most of the athletes “my age” have long since walked away from their games. This is an age when you’re more likely to be a coach or TV analyst than an active player. But these guys play on, against the odds. (Jeter is hitting .404.)
To be a Yankees fan is to be greedy. We expect the Yankees to win far more than a fair share of World Series titles. We always expect to win. But last year, when it became clear that Posada was not going to return for another season, my desire to see them win felt almost desperate. I wanted not just another title for the Yankees, but something more: another title for my Yankees, the three remaining players from the glorious Joe Torre dynasty years. Guys “my age” winning it all, one more time. I convinced myself that it was meant to be. It was not.
When Pettitte announced his intention to return to the team this year, that same irrational sense of “Wouldn’t it be great?” destiny rekindled in my heart: three of these guys have a chance to win One More Ring. Now we’re down to two.
Time’s effects, even against Rivera — the most graceful and elegant ballplayer I’ve ever seen, the closest thing in sports to an ageless wonder — are ignominious. The Yankees often win, but in the end, time always wins — the one opponent against which even the Yankees will forever be underdogs. To struggle against time is to struggle against the inevitable. We all know you can’t beat time, but the joy of these aging Yankees is that sometimes you can get lucky and race ahead of it for a while. But now this.
I’m not writing him off. If anyone can return from such an injury at 42, it is Rivera. But no matter how this turns out for Rivera and the Yankees, the reminder is clear: everything is fleeting.