They’ve all told you the same thing — those who raised you, siblings, lovers, the god you worship, the earthly squires of the god you worship, teachers, physicians, strangers on public transit, neighbors, pets. It’s the stinking, larded pageant of those you have known, and they agree on nothing save for this: that your best is not good enough.
It is not often that you call upon the best you’ve got in the service of completing a task or making what struck you in the conception stages as a pleasant gesture, but even in those scarce moments when you do offer up the best you’ve got, it’s not enough.
Mariano Rivera knows this. He’s aware of all that you’ve befouled. Consider it a mission of conscience for him, this letting you know that he knows you’re diminished by the effort …
You see that he, for a fugitive instant, looks askance while he hails your miserable attempt. He’s aware that this is alms-giving of somewhat embarrassing extremes. To be sure, there is condescension lost in his practiced applause, which strikes you as not unlike the hand-claps of a dutiful grandmother who beats the Gold Medal flour from her hands as she makes the weary lemon cake by rote. The apron hides a will and a cancer …
Mariano Rivera’s prosopon mask of exuberance is to obvious excess, to glut. What you’re doing at this moment warrants so, so much less. But Mariano Rivera feigns joy so as to train you to keep at this toil. He knows you’ll never get there, but have another go at it just the same, would you, you hesitating buckaroo? For he knows hope is not so much an expectation as it is a way of whittling at the days like a sassafras branch until they come to embalm you. Mariano Rivera knows this, but he’s too gentlemanly to say as much.
Your best will never be good enough, but it’s better than it ever has been, so long as Mariano Rivera is watching.
(This piece originally appeared at FanGraphs.)