It's five weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, which means baseball is almost close enough for us to smell it.
Almost, but not quite. That means we still need a few things to keep our mind occupied until we can finally let it surrender to the sounds of summer. For much of the offseason, that has meant worrying about whether Cliff Lee or Andy Pettitte would be starting games for the Yankees come April. We know the answer to the first, but, frankly, we've wasted more than enough precious hours thinking about left-handed pitchers who aren't sure that they want to wear pinstripes.
So let's think about happier topics. Like Mariano Rivera, for starters. Thanks to Trevor Hoffman's retirement, Rivera will enter the 2011 season with a chance to add the all-time saves record to his already glorious resume. Given Hoffman's recent performances, he would have had an outside shot at the record anyway, but now we know that he merely needs to lock down 43 saves to become the man of the hour.
There's a chance that he doesn't get there this year. He saved 35 games last season, but he's nailed down 42 or more in six of his 14 seasons as the team's closer. Predicting such things is folly, so we'll just say that, barring devastating injury, Rivera will have the record before Memorial Day in 2012.
It's a pretty remarkable achievement. Hoffman retired with 601 saves, Rivera has 559 and, assuming Billy Wagner stays retired, there are no other active pitchers with even 300 saves for their careers. That means that we're looking at a long run at the top for Mo once he moves past Hoffman.
Strangely, Rivera didn't make this a part of his contract negotiations. That puts him into sharp contrast with a teammate who shall remain nameless while making plans for the marketing opportunities that will come with the 3,000th hit that ties him for 27th in baseball history.
The downside, should you choose to find one about this pending achievement, is that it is a reminder that we're drawing ever closer to the day when the bullpen door opens for someone other than number 42. It's the kind of thing you know is coming, but can never truly be prepared for because it is impossible to remember what life was like before it existed.
The u[side is still greater. There may not have ever been an athlete better at his job than Rivera is at closing out Yankee victories nor has there ever been an athlete less interested in letting you know how good he is. Having the all-time saves record isn't the reason won't make the former any more true, it's just a fitting thing for Rivera to have on his plaque when he gets the call from Cooperstown.