Mariano Rivera Foundation Gala Benefits New Learning Center in New Rochelle

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Choosing a singular moment over the course of Mariano Rivera’s legendary career that stands above the rest is about as tough as barreling up one of his patented cutters on the inside corner. 

After all, for baseball’s first ever unanimous inductee into the Hall of Fame, a man with more saves than any other pitcher in the game’s history (652), a five-time World Series Champion and 13-time All-Star, there’s quite a few instances to pick from.  

Mariano Rivera revealed Saturday evening, however, that the biggest save of his career is only just beginning...

It’s fitting that "Enter Sandman" echoed through the spacious hallways of Marina Del Rey in the Bronx as Rivera made his proverbial entrance through a massive doorway onto a huge stage.

Rivera’s closest friends and family members, along with countless former athletes and celebrities gathered on Saturday in celebration of an iconic career, but also to benefit a tremendous cause.

The Mariano Rivera Foundation is working to construct a new, first-of-its-kind Learning Center for children in New Rochelle, New York, providing education, sports and after school programming to minors that otherwise wouldn’t have access to those opportunities.

To the former Yankee closer, who founded the Mariano Rivera Foundation in 1998 alongside his wife Clara, helping others and providing vital funding for New York's impoverished youth is the essence for why he works to have a presence in the community.

“Having friends, family, close people that believe in the cause, believe in education, believe in giving back to the community, that’s what it is all about,” Rivera explained. “So for me to be here with all these people and create opportunity for those boys and girls that need us … I’m happy and thankful.”

In New Rochelle, 53 percent of residents living below the poverty line are minors -- all proceeds from the gala will go to benefiting the Learning Center. 

Like any good closer, Rivera has a full team of supporters behind him -- Saturday night was no exception.

Former teammates David Cone and Bernie Williams were in attendance, along with veteran manager Bobby Valentine and actors Chazz Palminteri and Steve Schirripa. Several items and experiences were auctioned off at the Gala, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the construction of the Learning Center.

Williams, who spent 12 years with Rivera in pinstripes, called his former teammate “the epitome of what a major league player should be.” He explained that this Learning Center is a perfect example of his influential work in the community.

“Everything he has done since he retired has been just raising funds and making sure that he gets all of his efforts toward making an impact on the community,” Williams said. “He’s always thinking about kids and how to be a help for other people. I’m really proud to have him as one of my dear friends and I certainly will be in the position to support him in everything that he does.”

Valentine, who managed the Mets against Rivera and the Yankees in the 2000 World Series, said simply that Mo “gets it.”

“He understands what’s right and what’s wrong and it’s very clear to him,” Valentine explained. “With other people, they get a little confused with what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to act. He never missed a beat.”

Rivera grew up in Panama and didn’t have access to quality equipment as he began to play and find a love for the game of baseball. As he spoke to the entire room of guests, he justified the work he does with his Foundation as a way to teach children how to believe in themselves.

He recalled when he was told as a kid that he couldn’t accomplish anything in life -- now he’s inspiring countless underserved minors in New York’s five boroughs and Westchester that anything is possible.

“He has made New York his home away from home in Panama and he’s made an impact in this community which is basically what he did on the field,” Williams said. “I think he’s taking everything he learned as a baseball player and just applying it to his life now, having this normal life as a citizen. He’s doing great and that’s why we’re here supporting him.”

In addition to benefiting local communities, Rivera was honored for his illustrious career, culminating with his retirement in 2013 and his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame this past July. He was named on all 425 HOF ballots by the BBWAA, the first ever to get to Cooperstown without dissent.

To Cone, who won four championships with The Sandman over his six-year stint with the Bombers, taking a comprehensive look back at Rivera’s career, Mo is right at the top in the ranks of baseball's overall consummate professionals.

“There’s nobody like Mariano,” Cone said. “The influence he’s had on the game, both on and off the field, culturally among the Latin American community, he’s a hero and a mentor to so many young players … it took a long time to get that first unanimous selection [into the Hall of Fame] and Mariano was a fitting choice.”

A humbled and grateful Rivera said he hopes to pass down the act of giving back to the next generation of big leaguers.

“My message would be, if you find it in your heart that you can give back to the community, giving opportunity that the lord has given you,” he said “[then give] back to whoever you play with, any community you play in. I played here in new York, that’s why I give back -- and other countries it’s not only New York.”

Mo called building the Learning Center in New Rochelle his “biggest save” -- and as guests strolled to the exit as the Gala came to a close Saturday night, it truly felt as though Rivera had recorded save number 653.

This time, however, his efforts didn’t result in a victory for the Yankees, instead they're set to change lives.  

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