Royals

Local fans have a special meeting with Yankees star Rivera

Updated: 2013-05-12T01:34:41Z

By PETE GRATHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Joe Bresette brought the house down, and it never felt better to laugh.

Bresette, 13, and brothers Sam, 9, and Tyler, 5, joined parents Heather and Ryan in meeting Yankees closer Mariano Rivera before Saturday night’s game.

Rivera, who will retire at season’s end, is greeting various groups of local fans at every stop the Yankees make this year. While 18 people were invited to the meeting at Kauffman Stadium, the Bresette family talked about one who wasn’t there: 10-year-old Luke, who died at the Birmingham, Ala., airport in March.

Luke loved baseball and would have been thrilled to be part of Saturday’s event, his parents said, tears coming to their eyes. That’s when Joe blurted out: “But he hated the Yankees!”

Everyone in the room, including Rivera, roared.

“Baseball is a common ground in our family between all of the kids,” Ryan Bresette said. “Sports is very active in our household. To be able to be out here today is special. It brings a bright spot in our life at a time of tears.”

“Words,” he later added, “can’t describe how special this is.”

Rivera’s personal retirement tour has and will include on-field ceremonies. But he is also taking the time to meet behind the scenes with those who love baseball but who never would have the opportunity for one-on-one questions with the greatest closer of all time.

“Oh my god, this one was touching,” Rivera said afterward. “Emotional. Hearing first the family that lost their son, it’s amazing, and the kid who has cancer, when he said he pitched during treatment, then lay on the bench and tell the coach to give him one more shot ... that was amazing. Shocking.

“And then the other kid that had the fields built in the backyard, helping others, this is a kid in a wheelchair doing something for the community. Doing something for someone else. That’s why I love to do this.”

Among the group that met with Rivera was Joe and Tom Giovagnoli, the sons of the man who invented the Iron Mike Pitching Machine, and Rickey Hernandez, who is in a wheelchair but had a baseball field built at his house so children with disabilities could play the game. He was joined by his father, Ricardo, and Dan Liston of the Dream Factory. Also there: Sam DiGiovani and Tony Ross of the Bishop Sullivan Center and Paulo Ramirez, who founded the area’s first Spanish radio station and was joined by his son, Juan Carlos.

Rivera talked with another pitcher, 14-year-old Jonas Borchert, who has Ewing’s Sarcoma and developed a tumor behind his eye.

When symptoms started — but before Borchert was diagnosed — he would lie on the bench between innings at his games and plead with his coaches to let him continue. Just one more batter, he’d say.

“You didn’t let that hold you back,” Rivera told Borchert. “You gave it all. I appreciate that. I will keep that always in my mind.”

Borchert’s parents, Joseph and Kristin, were at the event along with kid sister, Blair. Jonas’ cancer was in remission for nine months last year, but it is back.

That means baseball is on the back burner for now. But talking to a fellow pitcher like Rivera definitely means a lot.

To Rivera as well.

“It’s something every player should experience, because it’s wonderful,” Rivera said. “Just to sit there, and the things you get from it, it will change your life. There’s so much out there you don’t know.”

To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to pgrathoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/pgrathoff.

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