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Caption - Yankees legend Mariano Rivera and his family with President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. Photo Courtesy White House
WASHINGTON - On Sept. 16, New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump.
During his 19-year career with the Bronx Bombers, the Panama native, known affectionately by teammates as “Mo,” established himself as the greatest closer of all time.
After a brief stint as a starting pitcher, Rivera transitioned to the bullpen in 1996, where he would set up games for then-closer John Wetteland on the path to a NY World Series win in 1996. After Wetteland went to the Texas Rangers, Rivera became the full-time closer, and the rest is history.
Rivera, who famously came out to the sound of “Enter Sandman” at home games as an ominous sign of what would happen to opposing batters, earned four more World Series titles, winning one WS MVP in 1999, a postseason ERA of 0.70, 13 All-Star Game selections, a record 652 saves, a myriad of other accomplishments, and dozens of broken bats that fell to his lethal cutter.
In an ironic twist, Rivera would eventually go down is history as the last player to ever wear #42 in the majors, as it was retired in honor of Jackie Robinson. Last year, Rivera became the first player in Major League Baseball history to be unanimously selected to the Hall of Fame.
In addition to his on the field accolades, Rivera also gives back to the community. Through the Mariano Rivera Foundation, he has supported education and built churches.
“Today, we present our nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to American baseball legend - maybe the greatest pitcher of all time…Mariano, I want to congratulate you on this really extraordinary achievement. Thank you. And it’s - on behalf of this whole country, thank you very much for the great job you’ve done.
“Mariano was born the son of a fishing boat captain on the coast of Panama. He learned to play baseball on the mudflats of the Pacific with a cardboard glove, a bat fashioned from a tree branch, and a ball made out of rock, string, and tape. There wasn’t a lot of money for playing baseball. He excelled at the sport. At the age of 18, he started playing in the country’s top adult league…
“…After five years playing in the minors, in 1995, Mariano made it to the big leagues. In his second season with the Yankees, Mariano delivered 130 strikeouts in less than 108 innings. While facing 425 batters, he allowed only one homerun. With an ERA of 2.09, the Yankees made him a closer for the 1997 season. That’s when it really started happening…
“…Mariano was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2015. And of course, he serves as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.
“Mariano Rivera has made extraordinary contributions to American sports, culture, and society. He is the most dominant relief pitcher in the history of baseball. And more than that, he has lived the American Dream and shines as an example of American greatness for all to see.”
“That year, he accidentally threw a pitch he had never thrown before. Then he tried it several more times - again and again. It kept working. And at the last second, his fastball - it was really an incredible thing - became the cutter. He had suddenly developed that lethal pitch, which - are people throwing that pitch today, because I’ve never noticed they seem to - they don’t have your success, I can tell you, right?
“First of all, I would like to say thank God for a wonderful day and all of us being here in person,” said Rivera, who was accompanied to the ceremony by his wife Clara, sons Mariano III, Jafet, and Jaziel, and daughter-in-law Alyssa.
“And, Mr. President, thank you for all of those words and remarks. The First Lady, thank you. Mr. Pence, Karen, thank you for being - all of you - for being here present. But my wife, my kids, and my family - the rest of the family - friends, without you guys the support and the prayers that we got from Mr. T. - Mr. Joe Torre - benefit from a lot of those prayers.
“And for me, it’s an honor and a privilege to receive this award, this Medal of Freedom, which - I mean, all I did is try to be the best and do the best for America.
“You know, one thing that I have to remark - this one remark. When I came here in 1990, I came to Tampa. Didn’t spoke no English. I mean, I didn’t spoke - I didn’t speak now; forget about in 1990. You know. And the reason why I did that because, in the team, there were a lot of players that spoke Spanish, so I got a little comfortable and didn’t try a little bit to learn the language.
“My second year in baseball, I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, where most of the people didn’t speak any Spanish. Especially my teammates, they - even I was a little younger, so the guys that spoke Spanish on the team would hang out with the older guys, and I was left out. And I was hanging out with the guys - a friend of mine, Tim Cooper, and another guy, Bob Dillard.
“Those two, I asked - because I was frustrated. Times that I’d go to bed crying not because of the game, but because I was frustrated because I couldn’t speak the language. I couldn’t speak English. So therefore, I told those two teammates of mine, I said, ‘I don’t care how much you laugh. And I don’t care how much you make fun of me, but, please, I give you the permission to laugh and do that, but teach me. Teach me the right way.’ By my surprise, they never laugh at me and they teach me.
“By the end of the year, I was able to communicate with my manager, with my teammates, and I was the happiest man in baseball. And from that, I would say that my career took off and I was able to realize that I can do something for others because I knew the language. Now I can relay with someone that’s going through the same process that I have been, but at the same time teach them that, yes, learning English is the first thing that we should do. And I did.
“And for that, being American, I’m so proud and honored that, coming from a small town - beautiful town, beautiful country called Panama - and live with my family here, and understand the language and everything that we go through, I’m proud to be an American. So for that, thank God. Thank you very much.”
By Kristopher Seals and William Hathaway
NEWARK - A Brick City hero came back to his hometown, waking up a restless crowd, all while putting his opponent’s aspirations of victory to sleep.
Newark native and Olympic Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson headlined an ESPN nationally televised Top Rank boxing card at the Prudential Center on July 13. The 22-year-old undefeated pugilist entered the squared circle to face Mexico’s Alberto Guevara, after at least eight other boxers declined to fight Stevenson. Their collaborative “want no parts of this” proved prudent, as the NABO Featherweight champion (and IBF inter-continental champ) kept his crown, dispatching Guevara via a 3rd Round knockout.
The 1st Round was competitive, with Stevenson feeling out his opponent. Then, in Round Two, Stevenson scored the first knockdown. Anyone familiar with Stevenson’s work will know that when he has an opponent in peril, he finishes the job. The outcome was inevitable, as the Newark prizefighter worked in several body shots before using his patented left hand upside Guevara’s head to end the bout in the next round, improving his record to 12-0 with seven knockouts.
At the end of the night, Stevenson told the network how proud he was to fight in front of his home crowd, and that it was time for other title holders to give him a shot at their belts. While Stevenson is more than deserving of an opportunity, he might not have done himself any favors after systematically destroying another challenger, thus making other champions wary of losing their title crowns, as well as the crowns in their teeth.
“This is not the first time I’ve seen Shakur do this,” said Kristopher Seals, who saw the bout and co-wrote this piece. “True story: I once ordered something at a fast food restaurant with a TV screen showing his fight against Viorel Simion. He took Simion out so fast that my order literally wasn’t ready yet.”
Of course, the Newark crowd gave their hero a warm ovation, not only for coming home, but for providing much needed entertainment after the penultimate fight left much to be desired. In a 12 Round Bantamweight bout, Joshua Greer, Jr. defeated Nikolai Potapov in a majority decision. The pace of the match was rather pedestrian, and the crowd audibly booed throughout the clash.
As television viewers got to see Stevenson and Greer claim victory, others who got to “The Rock” early saw more undercard bouts, which saw lightweight Joseph Adorno beat Adriano Ramirez by 2nd Round KO, welterweight Josue Vargas score a 7th Round TKO over Manuel Lopez, Indian prizefighter Vijender Singh beat Michael Snider by 4th Round TKO in a super middleweight fight, super lightweight John Bauza win a unanimous decision over Angel Sarinana, and fellow super lightweight Julian Rodriguez score a 1st Round KO over Hevinson Herrera in just 59 seconds.
With all these fights however, the boxer who stole the show was none other than welterweight Vito Mielnicki, Jr., a 17-year-old from Roseland, who is currently attending West Essex High School. You read that correctly, he is STILL in high school, and made his professional debut against Mississippi’s Tamarcus Smith. Despite the crowd still filing in, the ovation Mielnicki received only fell short of what headliner Stevenson received when he came on last.
In what was scheduled to be a four round bout, Mielnicki nearly outshined Stevenson, and in one minute and 16 seconds scored a brutal 1st Round TKO on Smith. The referee did not even go for the proverbial 10 count, as Mielnicki hit Smith so hard that the latter was left face down snoozing on the mat. The crowd erupted, with the high school senior winning his debut in a manner so devastating that Smith was out cold for about two minutes, and still on the mat for three more.
Sadly, the jubilation of the Saturday night matches was marred by the untimely death of Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, who was fatally struck by a car the next night in Virginia Beach. The multi-time champion of several weight classes was 55.
By Kristopher Seals
PARIS, FRANCE - Four years after a championship performance, the best female soccer (football) team on the planet proved it was not a fluke.
On July 7, the United States Women’s Soccer Team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 to claim the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, their second straight and fourth overall. After a scoreless first half, the U.S. got on the board thanks to a Megan Rapinoe penalty kick in the 61st minute, and then a Rose Lavelle goal eight minutes later.
The sold out crowd of nearly 58,000 at Stade de Lyon in Paris got to see stars like Megan Rapinoe, who scored six goals and bagged three assists in the tournament, and Delran, New Jersey’s own Carli Lloyd, who may have played in her last World Cup. Fellow footballer Tobin Heath is from Basking Ridge.
Despite a good fight from the Dutch, the American squad was too dominant for nearly everyone on the pitch (field). They cruised through Group F with a record-shattering 13-0 win over Thailand, as well as a 3-0 win over Chile and 2-0 victory over Sweden. After group play, the U.S. netted 2-1 wins over Spain and France, with Rapinoe doing all the scoring. In their penultimate match, England put up the toughest fight, but fell 2-1.
Throughout their title run, the team set records for most goals in a tournament (26), most goals in one match (Alex Morgan - 5) and having the first women’s coach (Jill Ellis) to win back to back World Cups. Rapinoe was bestowed the Golden Ball and Boot for her performance.
“I’ve got 22 of the best bestest friends right behind me,” said Lloyd during a victory parade through New York’s Canyons of Heroes July 10. “I’m super proud of this team…Thank you to you fans and New York City. We cannot thank you enough for your support.”
Now, the team will take on their next challenge: equal pay with their male counterparts, who did not even qualify for the last World Cup. (If you base things on performance, they should be paid MORE than the men.)
By William Hathaway
The battle of the Oranges was a good old fashioned football game, which saw the 15U East Orange All Stars redeem themselves. In their previous encounter this season, Orange beat East Orange at Bell Stadium 13-0.
Quarterback Najee Harris led East Orange along with teammate Calvin Scott, who connected on a 60 yard pass to open the scoring 6-0. Then, another touchdown came late in the game to make the final score 12-0, giving East Orange the East Coast Spring Football Championship in Roselle.
Despite the loss, Orange’s All Stars were led on defense by Ashton Lively who had some key stops along with teammate Edwin Thomas. East Orange’s defense was led by Mohamed Diakite.
Orange’s 15U team barely missed out on an undefeated season at 7-1. However, the 10U team won its first ever East Coast Spring Football Championship game against the Essex County Predators.
The 10U Orange All Stars were led by quarterback Fredrick Caffey, who scored two key touchdowns in the game, which went into double overtime and ended in a 12-6 title win. The 10U Orange squad finished their season with a 7-1 record under head coach Fred Caffey.
In other sports news, the 26th Annual Paul Robeson Football Classic will take place on this Thursday at Robeson Stadium in East Orange. The game features graduating seniors from Essex, Passaic, Morris, Sussex and Warren counties. Players participating in the game are from Orange, East Orange, Bloomfield, Irvington and other schools in the tri-state area.
Finally, former Red Sox great “Big Papi” David Ortiz is recovering after being shot in the Dominican Republic. Ortiz suffered internal injuries to his liver and intestines A suspect was immediately arrested.
By Thomas Ellis II
This past Saturday, the Ivy Hill Little League held its Opening Day for the 2019 Baseball Season. The day started out with a parade of players and gathering at 9:15 am at the Ivy Hill Mini Mall.
The weather was beautiful, and it was a great day for baseball. At about 10:00 am, the marches stepped off, chanting “Who are we, Ivy Hill,” “Who are we, Maplewood,” “Who are we South Orange.” This year’s season is a special one, because Maplewood and South Orange have joined up with the Ivy Hill Little League, and everyone is so excited.
All the children and players look so good in their baseball uniforms. The T-Ball teams are the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Cubs. The Minor and Major teams for the league are the Mets, Yankees, and Dodgers. The minors range from ages 7 to 9, while the majors are ages 10- 12.
It's really good to see people willing to volunteer coaching baseball, because it seems like baseball in the inner cities has become a lost sport. I can remember growing up as a child that everyone was playing baseball, and some children went on to play in college, and even make the pros. Now, it's hard to find baseball in many communities, must less people who are willing to come out and coach for free.
By William Hathaway
On Feb. 3, the New England Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl in franchise history, shutting down the high scoring Los Angeles Rams 13-3. Super Bowl 53 will go down as the lowest scoring big game in history, netting only 16 points. As he has over the past 17 years, quarterback Tom Brady lead the Pats, passing 21-35 for 262 yards and one interception. However, this time he would not take home the MVP trophy, as it went to wide receiver Julian Edelman, who caught 10 of Brady’s passes for 162 yards.
For the first three quarters, the score was tied 3-3, with New England getting a field goal from Stephen Gostkowski and LA getting one from Greg Zuerlein. After a defensive lockdown, Brady finally got a big play, tossing a ball to tight end Ron Gronkowski inside the Rams’ 3 yard line. From there, running back Sony Michel would score a 2 yard touchdown that would ultimately be the only one in the game.
LA QB Jared Goff struggled all day, with nonstop pressure from the Patriots defense. On his best chance to score, he threw an interception to cornerback Stephon Gilmore. From there, Gostkowski would tack on another field goal late, and with Zuerlein missing one after, the game was over.
With the sixth Super Bowl crown, the Patriots are now tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in NFL history. Brady now stands alone with the most title wins with six, breaking a tie with Charles Haley. Head coach Bill Belichick has won his sixth as a head coach, but eighth overall, with two as a New York Giants coordinator. He will need a new defensive coordinator for his Pats however, as Brian Flores will now be the Miami Dolphins’ head coach. Meanwhile, Rams head coach Sean McVay, the youngest to ever coach in the big game, will need a new QB coach, as Zac Taylor will now lead the Cincinnati Bengals.
In other NFL news, the Hall of Fame announced its newest members, and they include former New York Jets center Kevin Mawae, record breaking tight end Tony Gonzalez, former Patriots cornerback Ty Law, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, and cornerback Champ Bailey.