According to XM MLB Chat, Rodriguez described what it was like to compete against and play with Rivera in an interview during Sunday's Yankee radio pregame show with Suzyn Waldman:
He's our Roberto Clemente in many ways. And I love him, I love him to pieces. And I'm having such a great time playing the game, and he's a major part of it. Me coming back and having the privilege to put on the pinstripes and share the uniform with Mariano Rivera is a moment I'll never forget.
...when the moment gets really, really, really tough, and New Yorkers can appreciate this about Mariano, the best Mariano Rivera always stands out. And he's my hero and a role model and a dear friend.
Putting aside any personal feelings any fan has towards Rodriguez, he's right. Rivera is a role model for kids and fans alike.
While I aim to be my son's role model, I inevitably know he'll look up to some professional athletes as well. Rivera is one of those athletes, and I would have no problem with my son looking up to him. He's that good of a ball player and that good of a human being.
Now, it would be easy to ask why Rodriguez didn't follow Rivera's example when it comes to his latest allegations on performance-enhancing drugs. But that's not what this story is about. This story is about the words A-Rod used with which so many of us agree.
So, what makes Rivera a role model to so many?
He plays the game the right way
Regardless of where you stand in your religious beliefs, you have to admire where Rivera stands in his beliefs. A devout Christian, Rivera slowly became one of the best closers to ever play the game.
And he's done it the right way.
Outside of the fake Shane Spencer call on ESPN Radio 104.5 FM, nobody has accused Rivera of taking PEDs. And there would be nothing that would make you think he has taken them.
He is the career leader in saves with 651 and has had nine season of 40 or more saves. Throughout his 19-year career, his numbers are consistent. He had an ERA below 2.00 11 times and never had a spike in numbers.
In fact, according to FanGraphs, his velocity followed in line with getting older.
Baseball fans won't fully understand what he brought to the game until he's no longer in uniform.
When looking at everything Rivera has done in terms of humanitarian work, I'm just in awe of how much he gives of himself.
According to an Ed Lewi Associates press release, Rivera has come up big in his charitable works:
Away from the ball field, Rivera is well-known for his charitable endeavors on behalf of children through the Mariano Rivera Foundation, which addresses children’s needs through programs that focus on education, health and wellness in his adopted community of New Rochelle and his native Panama.
According to James Traub of the New York Times, Rivera distributes at least $500,000 a year to underprivileged children in the U.S. and Panama through church-based institutions:
Rivera is quite possibly the world’s most famous Panamanian, but he said that he makes a point of staying “under the radar” when he is there—which isn’t often, because during the off-season the boys are in school and he is loath to leave. When he does put away the mitt, Rivera says, he will devote himself to his philanthropic work.
Rivera gets it. It's not about throwing a baseball 100 mph. It's about getting that education so that you have something to fall back on in case you don't go pro in a sport.
I put Rivera in the same class as Clemente, because both realized they had a higher purpose with the gifts God gave them. Like Clemente, Rivera has given his time and money to those less fortunate.
He made his farewell tour about the fans
ESPN's E:60 recently did a profile on Rivera and his farewell tour, according to ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor.
Throughout his farewell tour, Rivera made sure to meet with fans and stadium workers in opposing ballparks, learning about them:
Harry Clark, 13, is one of them. "Just a beautiful boy," Rivera says from the visitors dugout during his last regular-season trip to Boston.
A beautiful, brave and incredibly mature boy from Wellesley, Mass., who says on the phone that he's been fighting an inoperable brain tumor for years, and that his time talking with Rivera "was one of the most amazing experiences of my life ... Mariano told me, 'Keep it up. Keep fighting. I know you can get through this and get better.'
Rivera is told what the boy says, told that Harry Clark promises to be a Red Sox fan and a Mariano fan at the same time.
"You see what keeps me going?" Mo says. "It's not money. It's not fame."
Then there was nine-year old Sam Bresette (a Royals fan), who met Rivera in May. While meeting Rivera was great, Bresette wished his brother Luke would have been there. Only he couldn't because he had been killed in March when a giant display board at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama collapsed and killed him.
Rivera spoke to the family about his own trying time in Kauffman Stadium where he tore his ACL last year.
But Rivera fully understood that a torn ACL isn't in the same ballpark with a broken heart. Mo hugged Luke Bresette's father, Ryan, a former Royals batboy, and whispered in his ear, "You are a stronger and braver man than I will ever be."
Those are only two stories. There are countless others of him meeting with wounded veterans, cancer patients, victims of the Boston bombings, a 45-year employee of the Angels and many more.
Rivera has been humble throughout, realizing that if not for the fans, he wouldn't be in the position he is in today.
Rodriguez had it right when he said Rivera is a role model.
He's a role model both on and off the field. He shows you how to play the game the right way and how to be a good person off of it.
Although Boston fans didn't like him when the two teams played, it would be hard to find one fan who doesn't respect him. The ovation fans gave him showed not only how much he meant to the rivalry, but how much he meant to the game.
That's why I put Rivera in the same class as Clemente. Both made baseball better for fans, on and off the field.