Mo says knee '95 percent' on way toward full health
Baseball's all-time saves leader conducts pitching clinic for Connecticut kids
By Bryan Hoch /01/05/13 5:58 PM ET
DANBURY, Conn. -- To most of his audience, Mariano Rivera was happy playing the role of pitching coach on Saturday morning, covering the basics for a room filled with big league hopefuls.
For some of the 150 or so children on hand for Rivera's clinic, their return to normalcy seemed even more important.
Some of the young players attending Rivera's session at the Frozen Ropes academy came from nearby Newtown, where the community is attempting to recover from last month's school shooting.
"We didn't try to get into it," Rivera said. "We just tried to run it smooth and make sure they were comfortable. There were a few kids from there, and we want to make sure we made them feel comfortable and not try to treat them differently. I think that was for the best."
Rivera worked with the children on their leg lifts, arm slots and follow-throughs, nodding with approval when his instructions produced strikes, and patiently offering hints that might improve their performance in the upcoming Little League seasons.
Baseball was the language bonding the room on Saturday, but standing less than 15 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School -- where a gunman killed 26 and wounded two on the morning of Dec. 14 -- Rivera said that it was difficult for him not to think about the recent events.
"When you have something like that and think about children, kids, I think the whole nation, the whole world, felt that," Rivera said. "Not just the United States, but the whole world. It was a disaster, it definitely was, so all we have to do is pray."
The mood was considerably lighter with his laughing, chatty audience. Following the pitching clinic, Rivera fielded questions from the kids, saying in response to one query that he enjoys this side of the teaching process and that he hopes to continue instructing young players long after his retirement.
"I want to teach the little ones, because it's a long road from the Minor Leagues," Rivera said. "That's where my passion is. I want to make sure those guys have enough guidance."
Not that Rivera, who hinted strongly at retirement last spring, seems prepared to drop any hints of when he might consider taking his famed cutter home for good. Asked by a youngster how much longer he intends to continue pitching, Rivera chuckled.
"There is media here," Rivera said. "I don't know. I have another contract for this year. I don't know what is going to happen next year."
Rivera, 43, agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal -- plus incentives -- with the Yankees this winter. He said that his right knee, which was surgically repaired after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament last May, is close to being ready for mound action.
"It's not 100 percent. It would be, I would say, 95 percent," Rivera said. "By the time Spring Training starts, it'll feel 100 percent."
Rivera said that his rehab is continuing on a near-daily basis and that he expects to resume throwing in about a week. He expects a "normal" Spring Training -- which, for him, likely means a slightly late report to Yankees camp in Tampa, Fla. -- but said his knee will be ready for any save opportunities come Opening Day.
"It needs more strengthening. The five percent will come quick," Rivera promised.
Rivera seemed much less concerned with the state of his knee than with making a good impression. Standing before the group of youthful faces, many clad in T-shirts bearing Rivera's No. 42, the all-time saves leader hoped his words carried some weight.
"I feel good. That's what it is all about," Rivera said. "We came here to take care and make sure that everything is done right. The most important thing is that they have fun, and that's what it is all about."