Honoring A Hated Rival: The Uncomfortable Case Of Mariano Rivera At Fenway Park

While the majority of American sports fans were overdosing on NFL football and prepping for kickoff between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks Sunday night, there was something interesting and somewhat jarring taking place in Beantown. The Boston Red Sox and their fans were showering adulation upon a New York Yankee.

Let me repeat that for you: The Boston Red Sox and their notoriously anti-Yankees fans were showering adulation upon a New York Yankee.

Granted, that Yankee was New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer who ever lived, as he made his final visit to Fenway Park in his yearlong farewell tour. But it was still disconcerting to view as a sports fan, witnessing the Red Sox organization and their passionate fans put forth an over-the-top celebration for a player who spent his entire career torturing Boston and its AL East contemporaries for the most hated team in the sport — even if there was some good-natured ribbing of Mo during the ceremonies.

I know that teams have been honoring Rivera all season with gifts and short ceremonies — which, if I'm being honest, I think is a bit much but I can accept — but this is a different beast entirely. This is the rivalry of the sport, two teams and two cities that simply do not like each other one bit. Red Sox fans have spent Rivera's entire career cursing his name and wishing nothing but failure upon him. And now, suddenly because he's hanging it up, the Red Sox and their fans get all warm and fuzzy toward the guy? On one hand it's admirable, and on the other it's insanity.

Call me crazy, but I don't see the Philadelphia Flyers putting forth a 20-minute ceremony to honor Martin Brodeur whenever the hell the great New Jersey Devils netminder decides to call it a career, just like I can't envision the University of North Carolina faithful getting all sappy when Coach K. makes his final visit to the Dean Dome.

Everything about the pomp and circumstances of it all just felt uncomfortable and wrong to me as a sports fan. Shit, there was even a sign hanging in the outfield that said something to the effect of, "Mariano Rivera, the only Yankee we will miss," or something like that. Really? You people up in Boston are going to miss Mariano dropping the hammer of god of on you year after year, series after series, game after game (2004 notwithstanding)? Somehow I doubt that.

Now don't get me wrong — I'm not saying the Red Sox and their fans should have ignored the fact this was Mariano Rivera's last time in Fenway as a Yankee. Without a doubt, given all he has accomplished and the way he's gone about his business, a little intro, little handshake and possible small token given, and rousing standing ovation from the crowd were all in order. It's only right, the fans and the Boston organization showing the respect they have for the game and the respect (and envy) they have for the greatness of Rivera, a hated rival they witnessed more than anyone outside of the Bronx. It's the classy, appropriate thing to do — a tradition that has gone on in sports seemingly forever.

But the way it went on Sunday night, it just seemed over-the-top and a bit disgusting to me. The Yankees and the Red Sox are supposed to hate each other. Yankees fans and Red Sox fans are supposed to despise one another. Yankees fans are supposed to loathe Red Sox players, and Red Sox fans are supposed to abhor Yankees players. They aren't supposed to celebrate one another, to have a pseudo-retirement party of their own, if you will, no matter the greatness of the player in question.

Yet that's what happened Sunday night. For much more than just a little pregame moment, the Red Sox and their fans put everything they supposedly believe in aside to shower adulation upon a New York Yankee.

I'll say that one more time: The Boston Red Sox and their fans, who hate nothing more than the Yankees and everything they stand for, spent a long chunk of time showering adulation upon a New York Yankee.

Mariano Rivera or not, that made the sports fan in me uncomfortable for the pomposity of it all. And frankly, seeing a New York Yankee get so much love from a Boston Red Sox crowd just seemed disgusting.

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