The few minutes that Mariano Rivera spent speaking with Ryan Bressette and his family in an interview room beneath Kauffman Stadium forged a memory sure to last them a lifetime.
Perhaps for the Yankees closer, too.
Rivera spoke with more than a dozen members of the Kansas City community before Saturday night’s game against the Royals as part of a farewell tour. Rivera has been meeting with folks in each city the Yankees visit after announcing in March his intention to retire after the season.
Bressette fought back tears after speaking with Rivera, posing for a photograph with his family and getting a signed ball from one of the greatest relievers in baseball history.
By now, their story has become well-known.
Bressette’s family was returning to Overland Park., Kan., from a trip to Florida in March when a massive display board inside Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama fell on Heather and three of her boys. Heather was injured along with 9-year-old Tyler and 5-year-old Sam, while 10-year-old Luke was killed in the accident.
”I was in tears seeing this family, the father breaking down and the wife crying,” Rivera said afterward. ”This happened not too long ago.”
Heather Bressette broke both her ankles and her pelvis in the accident, and spoke to Rivera from her wheelchair. Tyler and Sam were there along with their other brother, Joe.
”You know, it’s a special moment,” said Ryan Bressette, who was a batboy for the Royals when he was kid, back in their glory days of George Brett and Willie Wilson.
”It’s nice to know that players do care about giving back to the community,” he said. ”Never in my wildest life could I imagine meeting Mariano Rivera.”
Jonas Borchert didn’t know he’d have a chance to meet Rivera, either, until Joe and Kristen Borchert brought their son to the ballpark on Saturday.
The soon-to-be 15-year-old from Lee’s Summit, Mo., has Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. A pitcher on his youth baseball team, he’s undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment and for a while the cancer was in remission, only for it to return recently.
”Jonas was an outstanding pitcher in his league,” Kristen Borchert said, adding with a smile: ”He was like the Mariano in that he could close out a game.”
Last summer, Royals players Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer met Borchert during a visit to Children’s Mercy Hospital, and decided to wear green bracelets in his honor during games.
Jonas Borchert said it was ”crazy, weird,” when Rivera said he was inspired by him.
Ricky Hernandez, who is in a wheelchair, attended with his father, Ricardo. Ricky helped start a baseball league from a field his family built in their backyard, and that story is leading to the building of a permanent ”adaptive” field for kids with disabilities.
Sam DiGiovani and Tony Ross represented the Bishop Sullivan Center, which helps Billy Butler of the Royals with his ”Hit-It-A-Ton program” to fight hunger, and Joe and Tom Giavagnoli came in honor of their late father Paul, who developed one of the first mechanical pitching machines.
Paulo Ramirez attended with his son, Juan Carlos. It was Paulo who founded the area’s first Spanish radio station and several other small businesses, and has worked tirelessly to provide job opportunities for immigrants who do not speak English.
When asked whether the intimate meet-and-greet was something that Rivera hoped other players would emulate, the Yankees reliever shrugged his shoulders.
”It’s not something I try to do for others to do it,” he said, ”but I tell you what: It’s something that every player should experience, because it’s just wonderful to say thanks.
”The feeling you get from it, it will change your life, because there’s so much out there we don’t know,” Rivera added. ”Just saying, `Thank you,’ and appreciating what you do – people behind the scenes that we may never know about – I mean, hopefully many others do it.”