Mariano Rivera helps Tiger Hollow

New York Yankee legend Mariano Rivera speaks to 300 people at Ridgefield High School’s student center in a benefit for Tiger Hollow. —Steve Coulter photo

New York Yankee legend Mariano Rivera speaks to 300 people at Ridgefield High School’s student center in a benefit for Tiger Hollow. —Steve Coulter photo

With Metallica’s notorious anthem Enter Sandman blasting and the crowd on their feet applauding, Major League Baseball’s all-time save leader Mariano Rivera made the routine entrance he had done almost a thousand times in his 19-year career.

Only this time it wasn’t Yankee Stadium, it was Ridgefield High School’s student center. And it wasn’t an opportunity to notch career save number 653; it was a chance to help raise funds for the lights at the new Tiger Hollow practice field, called Guido Maiolo Field, and for Mr. Rivera’s church in New Rochelle, N.Y., el Refugio de Esperanza — the Refuge of Hope.

Mr. Rivera, a first-ballot Hall of Famer once eligible in five years, gave a brief introduction speech Saturday morning, which was met with a standing ovation. He then stopped to pose for photographs at each of the three dozen tables that were packed with fans — young and old — who came out to see the New York Yankee legend talk about his career and answer questions from the audience.

“I’ll answer one for you guys,” he said. “I’m not coming back next season, so please don’t ask me that question.”

He fielded more than two dozen questions during an hour-and-a-half session, ranging from personal ones such as whom he looked up to as a child growing up in Panama to baseball-oriented ones like which batter he most hated to pitch to.

Youth baseball players asked him about his technique, preparation and motivation, while fans wanted to know what his favorite memory was wearing the famous Yankee pinstripes.

Mr. Rivera, the first-ever Yankee to have his number retired in Monument Park during his playing career, talked about coming up through the team’s farm system in the early 1990s, perfecting his signature pitch — the cut fastball, and winning his first World Series ring in 1996 as the team’s setup man.

He discussed the Yankees’ franchise-best record in 1998, when the team finished 114-48 and swept the World Series — the club’s second of four championships from 1996 to 2000.

Mr. Rivera named his favorite teammates — Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada — as well as which former teammate he thought would make the best manager, other than current Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

“Believe it or not, some people think the best players make the best coaches — that’s not true,” he said. “To me, the best coaches are the ones who have had to fight for what they’ve accomplished, someone who really watches the game and cares about every detail of it. …

“To answer the question about which player I played that would make a great coach, it really was Joe Girardi, to tell you the truth,” he said. “He didn’t have that much talent, but he fought and worked for everything he accomplished, and I saw that in him when I first met him.”

The 43-year-old didn’t shy away from questions about why he elected to retire this season or what it was like to come back from an injury he suffered in May 2012 that kept him out the entire season.

“It was such an honor to come back and play this season,” he said. “One of the top highlights of my career.”

He answered questions about his modesty toward being universally renowned as the greatest closer of all time, and how his legacy is different from, if not greater than, that of other all-time icons such as Michael Jordan.

He also talked about what current athletes inspire him, including his former teammate Jeter and quarterback Peyton Manning, both of whom had to recover from serious career-threatening injuries in their late 30s.

Mr. Rivera shared personal memories, such as breaking the all-time saves record with his 602nd save in September 2011 and the gifts he received on his farewell tour this past season.

He discussed the club’s last World Series title in 2009 and what he thought about the franchise’s moves this offseason.

“I see a lot of hitting, but not a lot of pitching,” he said. “I hope they can sign some really good pitchers.”

The event didn’t skimp on memorabilia, as signed photographs, baseballs and jerseys were auctioned off through a silent auction that concluded after the guest of honor spoke. Each member of the audience was given a raffle ticket for 42 “door prizes,” which included posters, plaques and baseball cards of Mr. Rivera as well as copies of his book, The Closer.

Audience members also had a chance to bid on auction packages that included a special jersey with a 602 all-time save patch, baseballs signed from his last game and the 2009 World Series, and posters and photographs — all of which were personally inscribed and signed by Mr. Rivera after the event.

John Pavain, chairman of the Tiger Hollow Committee, said he did not have an estimate Monday afternoon of how much was raised during the event, but added that the committee needed about $125,000 to complete the project.

“Saturday’s event with Mariano was a small piece of our bigger fund-raising plan — we’ve still got some ground to cover,” he said. “Mariano, besides being a great baseball player, is such a great person, and he really did such a great job answering all the questions with such grace and humility.

“Everyone got what they wanted out of it.”

Ridgefielder Angelo Formisano, a longtime friend of Mr. Rivera’s, arranged the visit to the high school — the legendary closer’s fifth appearance in town.

Saturday’s event was more intimate than some of his others in the past. The event was limited to just 300 attendees, who were given a commemorative T-shirt at the door as well as an opportunity to pose with Mr. Rivera in a table group photo.

“I’ve been good friends with Angelo all of these years and I want to be a good friend to all of you guys,” Mr. Rivera said in his introduction. “I’m always trying to help however I can, and that’s the most important thing in life— helping each other and helping others.”

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