Baseball’s all-time Former New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, renowned for his nearly unhittable “cut” fastball, is universally regarded as the best closer in baseball history.
In his fourth summer of retirement, however, the future Hall of Famer has a new mission: putting backpacks full of school supplies into the hands of low-income students.
Rivera and a team of volunteers, including his friend Mary Sciarrone of the “Cake Boss” reality television show, descended Monday on Wilmington’s Rodney Square, where they gave away more than 300 backpacks. The event also featured lunch and treats from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., owned by brother Buddy Valastro, the star of Cake Boss.
“Every time they do something I’m there to back them up,” said Sciarrone, who met Rivera when he visited the bakery to order a cake for his wife while he was playing. Sciarrone is now a member of the Mariano Rivera Public Foundation.
The foundation has previously given away backpacks in New York and New Jersey, said Naomi Gandia, who lives in Delaware and heads the foundation. He plans to hold another one soon in Georgetown, located in Delaware’s Sussex County, and hopes to expand to other cities and states, Gandia said.
Though he no longer dons the Yankee pinstripes and was wearing blue jeans and a white fashion T-shirt Monday, the 47-year-old former superstar athlete still exudes a celebrity aura.
Escorted around Wilmington’s grassy downtown square by a handful of police officers, Rivera posed for photos, handed out food to the children and answered questions from several reporters.
Rivera said he came to Delaware because of his “spiritual parents,” Gandia and her husband. He said he has visited them several times and wanted to do something for needy children here.
“We believe in education and we believe in giving back. And this is our future,” Rivera said from the stage, gesturing to the hundreds of youngsters on the lawn.
Added Rivera: “The Lord has blessed us in amazing ways. And that’s for us to share.”
Rivera said he has heard a little about Wilmington’s well-documented violence and said he wants to help the “less fortunate” children in Delaware’s biggest city. “We are their voice,” he said. We need to fight for them. We need to stand up for them.”
A native of Panama, Rivera still lives in New York but said he is not involved in baseball these days. He said he occasionally has a catch with his sons but that’s the extent of his connection to the game that made him famous.
Mayor Mike Purzycki, several other city officials, and two of Delaware’s three members of Congress — Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, also attended. “He doesn’t just count his blessings,” Coons said of Rivera. “He works hard to be a blessing. That’s what all of us hope to do in our life.”
Each backpack given out Monday held more than $30 worth of goodies. The inventory included folders, a spiral notebook, composition notebook, bottle of hand sanitizer, colored markers and pencils, regular pencils, scissors, large eraser, crayons, glue stick and a pencil case.
Among the beneficiaries was Nyree Anderson, who lives on Wilmington’s East Side. She brought her young son and daughter, as well as two nieces. She knew nothing about Rivera except that he is a baseball icon but was drawn to the event because school starts in a couple of weeks.
“We’re right down the street. We heard bookbag giveaway, different activities. Why not?” she said.
“School starts [Aug.] 30, so they’re ready to go.”