Lots of people - even famous people - have fantasies. Some of them are secret, and some of them are not so secret. As fantasies go, Mariano Rivera's got a pretty modest one: he just wants to play center field.
Rivera, who claims to be a viable center fielder, has made it clear that playing the position for one game is something he would love to do before he retires.
Rivera thinks he's pretty good at it. David Waldstein notes that he shags flies during batting practice on a near-daily basis. Joe Girardi is even somewhat receptive to the idea. There's just this one thing:
The risk of a possible injury and the potential that Rivera might make a costly mistake make it hard to find the right conditions for it to happen.
...it would be inconceivable to endanger such a valuable player prior to the playoffs by letting him sprint around in the outfield.
The injury risk. If it weren't for the injury risk, Rivera probably would have played center field already. On the surface, it doesn't seem like it would be that big of a deal.
Mariano Rivera's current duties:
A typical center fielder's duties:
We're leaving out "Hit" because Rivera is presumably interested in the defensive side of things, and would only play for an inning or two. Rivera already makes his living from throwing, so you can cancel that out. Which leaves running. The big difference between what Rivera does now and what Rivera would do as a center fielder is the running.
But is running really that dangerous, though? Especially infrequent running, covering short distances? Lots of people go running on purpose. Besides, Rivera already has to run short distances when he covers first base, and there he has to deal with the mound. It doesn't seem like the running would pose much of a hazard.
Yet this isn't just about general running. This is about running in what I can only imagine would be Yankee Stadium's center field. You have to consider what Yankee Stadium's center field looks like, and then you can begin to understand the hesitation:
* this actually exists in a stadium
There are so many hazards! It's no wonder why the Yankees haven't put Mariano Rivera in center field. It's some wonder why the Yankees haven't put A.J. Burnett in center field. "Hey, we're short on bodies, yeah, no, just another inning or two, we'll play it by ear."
In reality, there's caution, and then there's caution to an unnecessary degree. No, the Yankees shouldn't allow Mariano Rivera to roam around center field all the time, for like dozens of reasons. But once? Maybe twice, for an inning at a time, until he gets to make a play? Under strict instructions not to dive or pursue balls to the wall? I understand the concerns, but the risk is minimal, and I think Mariano Rivera has earned the opportunity. Here's hoping the Yankees give him a shot before he hangs up his cleats. I can already imagine the smile, and it is just the sweetest thing.