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Mariano Rivera’s long ride from a Pacific fishing village

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, Mariano Rivera Palacios, father of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, shows his son's baseball glove at his home where he has a wall filled with memorabilia from his son in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera Palacios, who worked as a captain on a sardine boat, likes to muse about his son's long journey to New York: "Sometimes when I'm in Yankee Stadium, I'm watching from the stands and I say to myself: `Look where Mariano has come from _ from Puerto Caimito, a town full of mud and a stinking fish meal plant. But this is what feeds us.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, Mariano Rivera Palacios, father of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, shows his son's baseball glove at his home where he has a wall filled with memorabilia from his son in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera Palacios, who worked as a captain on a sardine boat, likes to muse about his son's long journey to New York: "Sometimes when I'm in Yankee Stadium, I'm watching from the stands and I say to myself: `Look where Mariano has come from _ from Puerto Caimito, a town full of mud and a stinking fish meal plant. But this is what feeds us.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 3, 2013 photo, boats are anchored in Puerto Caimito, the home town of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, in Panama.  Rivera was probably destined for a life as a fisherman until his uncle Miguel Rivera died from a mishap at sea.  The tragedy convinced him to concentrate on baseball rather than the risky life of a fisherman. Rivera signed with the Yankees two years after the death of his uncle. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 3, 2013 photo, boats are anchored in Puerto Caimito, the home town of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, in Panama. Rivera was probably destined for a life as a fisherman until his uncle Miguel Rivera died from a mishap at sea. The tragedy convinced him to concentrate on baseball rather than the risky life of a fisherman. Rivera signed with the Yankees two years after the death of his uncle. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, people play outside a fenced in baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played their youthful baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, people play outside a fenced in baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played their youthful baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, people play outside a fenced in baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played their youthful baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, people play outside a fenced in baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played their youthful baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a baseball bat and a framed picture of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera hang on a wall inside the home of Rivera's father in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Around this Pacific fishing village he is still known by the nickname ``Pili.''  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a baseball bat and a framed picture of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera hang on a wall inside the home of Rivera's father in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Around this Pacific fishing village he is still known by the nickname ``Pili.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a baseball bat and a framed picture of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera hang on a wall inside the home of Rivera's father in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Around this Pacific fishing village he is still known by the nickname ``Pili.''  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a baseball bat and a framed picture of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera hang on a wall inside the home of Rivera's father in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Around this Pacific fishing village he is still known by the nickname ``Pili.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a couple talks inside an ocean front restaurant not far from where the New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama.  His childhood friends like Alfred Munoz remember how Rivera hated to lose. When his team was behind in a game, he'd throw the ball into the ocean and call it a tie. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a couple talks inside an ocean front restaurant not far from where the New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. His childhood friends like Alfred Munoz remember how Rivera hated to lose. When his team was behind in a game, he'd throw the ball into the ocean and call it a tie. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a couple talks inside an ocean front restaurant not far from where the New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama.  His childhood friends like Alfred Munoz remember how Rivera hated to lose. When his team was behind in a game, he'd throw the ball into the ocean and call it a tie. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a couple talks inside an ocean front restaurant not far from where the New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. His childhood friends like Alfred Munoz remember how Rivera hated to lose. When his team was behind in a game, he'd throw the ball into the ocean and call it a tie. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a bus waits for commuters along the beach where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season as the career leader in saves and one of the game's most dominating relief pitchers.  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a bus waits for commuters along the beach where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season as the career leader in saves and one of the game's most dominating relief pitchers. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a bus waits for commuters along the beach where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season as the career leader in saves and one of the game's most dominating relief pitchers.  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a bus waits for commuters along the beach where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season as the career leader in saves and one of the game's most dominating relief pitchers. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, Mariano Rivera Palacios, father of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, shows his son's baseball glove at his home where he has a wall filled with memorabilia from his son in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera Palacios, who worked as a captain on a sardine boat, likes to muse about his son's long journey to New York: "Sometimes when I'm in Yankee Stadium, I'm watching from the stands and I say to myself: `Look where Mariano has come from _ from Puerto Caimito, a town full of mud and a stinking fish meal plant. But this is what feeds us.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

    In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, Mariano Rivera Palacios, father of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, shows his son's baseball glove at his home where he has a wall filled with memorabilia from his son in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera Palacios, who worked as a captain on a sardine boat, likes to muse about his son's long journey to New York: "Sometimes when I'm in Yankee Stadium, I'm watching from the stands and I say to myself: `Look where Mariano has come from _ from Puerto Caimito, a town full of mud and a stinking fish meal plant. But this is what feeds us.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, Mariano Rivera Palacios, father of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, shows his son's baseball glove at his home where he has a wall filled with memorabilia from his son in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera Palacios, who worked as a captain on a sardine boat, likes to muse about his son's long journey to New York: "Sometimes when I'm in Yankee Stadium, I'm watching from the stands and I say to myself: `Look where Mariano has come from _ from Puerto Caimito, a town full of mud and a stinking fish meal plant. But this is what feeds us.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 3, 2013 photo, boats are anchored in Puerto Caimito, the home town of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, in Panama.  Rivera was probably destined for a life as a fisherman until his uncle Miguel Rivera died from a mishap at sea.  The tragedy convinced him to concentrate on baseball rather than the risky life of a fisherman. Rivera signed with the Yankees two years after the death of his uncle. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, people play outside a fenced in baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played their youthful baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, people play outside a fenced in baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played their youthful baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a baseball bat and a framed picture of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera hang on a wall inside the home of Rivera's father in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Around this Pacific fishing village he is still known by the nickname ``Pili.''  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a baseball bat and a framed picture of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera hang on a wall inside the home of Rivera's father in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Around this Pacific fishing village he is still known by the nickname ``Pili.''  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a couple talks inside an ocean front restaurant not far from where the New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama.  His childhood friends like Alfred Munoz remember how Rivera hated to lose. When his team was behind in a game, he'd throw the ball into the ocean and call it a tie. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a couple talks inside an ocean front restaurant not far from where the New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama.  His childhood friends like Alfred Munoz remember how Rivera hated to lose. When his team was behind in a game, he'd throw the ball into the ocean and call it a tie. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a bus waits for commuters along the beach where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season as the career leader in saves and one of the game's most dominating relief pitchers.  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, a bus waits for commuters along the beach where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season as the career leader in saves and one of the game's most dominating relief pitchers.  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, children jump rope near the baseball field where New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera played during his childhood in his hometown of Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera and his friends played baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls fashioned from fish nets. Bats were made from branches from the mangrove swamps, and gloves were empty milk cartons. Rivera, who debuted in 1995, will retire this season. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
  • In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, Mariano Rivera Palacios, father of New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, shows his son's baseball glove at his home where he has a wall filled with memorabilia from his son in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera Palacios, who worked as a captain on a sardine boat, likes to muse about his son's long journey to New York: "Sometimes when I'm in Yankee Stadium, I'm watching from the stands and I say to myself: `Look where Mariano has come from _ from Puerto Caimito, a town full of mud and a stinking fish meal plant. But this is what feeds us.'' (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

PUERTO CAIMITO, Panama — He came from a family where fishing was a way to make a living. And Mariano Rivera, like others before him, was destined for a fisherman’s hard life.

This was the dangerous work of his father, Mariano Rivera Palacios. It was also what uncle Miguel Rivera did. He died in a hospital after injuries at sea.

Miguel Rivera was lashed by ropes that broke loose from a hydraulic mechanism used to reel in fishing nets. This all happened in front of young Mariano, whose mouth and ribs were injured.

The death left a mark on Mariano Rivera. Better, he thought, to concentrate on baseball than the perils of a fisherman’s life.

“From that moment, I think he became fearful,” his father said. “From then on he began to practice more and go to the stadium.”

He signed with the New York Yankees two years after his uncle died. He returned to fishing at times, but only when he needed money.

Alfredo Munoz, a childhood friend, remembers that Rivera’s dreams lay beyond the sea. He recalls Rivera saying: “I want to be somebody. I want to be great.”

And he was true to his word. He became the greatest reliever in baseball history. He spent all of his 19 seasons with the Yankees, freezing batters at the plate for a generation. Now, at 43 years old and with the most saves in the game, the long ride ends with his retirement after this season.

Mariano Rivera was born on Nov. 29, 1969, the first son of Delia Jiron and Mariano Rivera Palacios. Around this Pacific fishing village he is still known by the nickname “Pili.” The town of 17,000 relies on fishing with 90 percent of the population employed buying, selling or catching fish.

“Mariano was a baseball player when he was still in the womb,” his father recalled. He also played basketball and soccer, but baseball won out.

His childhood friends remember how Rivera hated to lose. When his team was behind, he’d throw the ball in the ocean and call it a tie.

In Puerto Caimito — 25 miles west of the capital, Panama City — Rivera and his friends played their baseball on the beach with tennis balls, or balls made from fishing nets. Bats were made of branches from trees in the mangrove swamps. Gloves were empty milk cartons.

That would change before long. He failed in a tryout as an infielder, but he signed as a pitcher with the Yankees for $3,500. He was sent to the Dominican Republic to play, and quickly moved to Tampa, Fla. His debut in New York came in 1995.

“I rushed to sign as his dad,” his father recalled.

Baseball in Puerto Caimito did not begin with Mariano Rivera. After all, in the 1960s, a pitcher named Manuel Jiron signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, though he failed to make it to the majors. Rivera soared to unimagined heights.

Rivera’s father and mother have traveled often to see their son pitch. His father, once a captain on a sardine boat, likes to muse about his son’s journey.

“Sometimes when I’m in Yankee Stadium, I’m watching from the stands and I say to myself: ‘Look where Mariano has come from — from Puerto Caimito, a town full of mud and a stinking fish meal plants. But this is what feeds us.”

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