SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Mariano Rivera remembers his Little League days fondly. What he remembers most: He hated to pitch.
The former Yankees closer was inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence on Tuesday night between games of its World Series. Although Rivera’s 1985 Panama team didn’t reach the World Series, he loved his time in youth baseball.
“I was happy with what I had, and I didn’t have nothing,” Rivera said. “But what I had was the game of baseball.”
One other thing.
“I hated to pitch,” said Rivera, who was primarily a shortstop on his Little League team. “I didn’t like to pitch because you had to sit. I was playing all the positions.
“All the Little Leaguers, they pitch. But I didn’t like it. Figure it out, huh?”
Rivera retired after the 2013 season with a record 652 saves. Like John Smoltz, he’s concerned by all the injuries for young pitchers. Smoltz also warned parents about youth injuries during his Hall of Fame induction speech.
“We have to protect our kids,” Rivera said. “Those kids are throwing too much, especially in their leagues. That’s unacceptable. At the age of 15, they’re already having a big surgery. That can’t happen.
“We have to teach the boys how to pitch, how to use that plate. They don’t necessarily have to throw all kinds of breaking balls. Use your fastball and learn how to use it. That’s to me the No. 1 pitch in the big leagues, and it has to be the No. 1 pitch in Little League.”
Asked for the best advice he gives to young baseball players, Rivera said, “My best piece of advice I can give them is to stay in school. Any sport, we have injuries. An injury can cut your career short, and then what?”
Rivera was honored on the field before the final game of the night on Tuesday. He threw a ceremonial pitch to Bowling Green, Kentucky catcher Jonah Thurman, who squatted behind the plate and caught the perfect strike. Rivera then autographed the players’ batting helmets.