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  • Writer's pictureRay Navarrete

"ME vs. MO"

WOW...20 years flies by in what seems like 20 minutes!!

20 years ago today, I was extremely fortunate to be participating in Major League Baseball Spring Training while I was with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Big league camp was quickly coming to an end, and although I knew I didn't have a chance of breaking with the big league team for Pittsburgh, I was pretty pumped to still be hanging around with Opening Day just more than a week away.

On this day, March 21, 2003, I showed up to the stadium to get ready to play against the New York Yankees! Yep, the New York Yankees. Like the team that had won 4 World Series championships in the last 8 years. The same New York Yankees led by Manager Joe Torre and Captain Derek Jeter (both future Hall of Famers).

Be let's be real...Heading into the game, there was no guarantee that I would even play. It was a week away from Opening Day and the starters on both teams were increasing their playing time, building up for the start of the season.

I watched the game from the stop step of the dugout like a little kid. I couldn't believe that I was this close to the field, watching some of my all-time favorite players. It was awesome just being in uniform. At this Yankees game, I was in the dugout as a real player, not just a fan in the stands like so many other times that I had watched the Bronx Bombers play. To me, this was a big accomplishment. Less than 3 years earlier, I had gone un-drafted in the MLB amateur draft, my career on the verge of being over, and somehow, I had fought my way to this stadium, in this dugout, playing a game against the New York Yankees.

And then it happened!! I heard my manager, Lloyd McClendon, call my name...

"NAVARRETE, get ready, your'e going in!!"

Wait, what?!?! I'm going into this game, against the Yankees?!?!'' (I said to myself).

And just like that, I had to get it together real quick. I had to remember that I wasn't just a kid from Jersey excited to be there watching - I had to remember that I had worked my butt off to get here, to this game, to this moment...and that I could do it.

As I began to grab my batting gloves, helmet and bat, I took a peak to see who was coming in to pitch. At first, I didn't notice anyone on the mound. So I took a look out at the bullpen, and I couldn't believe it.

There was no way this was happening. The famous jog onto the field that you couldn't mistake for anyone else. The one and only #42, Mariano Rivera...the greatest closer of all-time was about to take the mound, and I was going to get my chance to dig in the batters box against him.

Before I could really take it all in, I hear the PA announcer..."Now batting, #93, Ray Navarrete". As I walked up to the batters box, I took a good look around, trying to soak in the moment. I thought about Darryl Strawberry and Derek Jeter (who played in this game), the two players who made me fall in love with the game of baseball. I thought about my brother and how pumped I knew he would be for me. I thought about my Dad who is a super big Yankees fan. And I thought about my family and all the games they came to watch me play.

And I thought about Lil" Ray, the younger version of myself. The kid who batted .157 as a freshman in high school. The kid who didn't get a call on draft day. The kid who wasn't supposed to be here.

I can't lie and say that I got a hit against the great Mariano Rivera, because I didn't. But what I can say is, just like my entire career, from little league to Major League Spring Training, I dug into the batters box and battled my ass off; the best I could, with the little talent I had.

I remember saying to myself, "No matter what happens, no one can ever take this away from you". I knew that this was a Major League Baseball game. I

I knew that this at-bat, this moment, wasn't a hot day in the summer at PNC Park in Pittsbugh or a cold night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in the World Series. But it was my moment. My moment vs. Mo!

I competed that at-bat with the greatest closer in the world. I took a couple of good hacks, fouling off a good cutter; stayed in there when a cutter almost hit me, and battled to a full-count. And on a 3-2 pitch, I put some good wood on his cutter and hit a fly ball to right field. I didn't get jammed. He didn't break my bat like so many other hitters he's done that to. I made some decent contact. As I rounded first, watching the right fielder catch my fly ball, I smiled. How could I not. You see, if I had listened to so many people along the way, this moment, my moment vs Mo, would never have happened.

But I believed it could. I believed in high school. I believed in college. I believed in the minor leagues. And I believed on that day 20 years ago.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't think that I would get called up to the big leagues at some point in my career. That maybe I would get more moments like this. Unfortunately, that's not how it all played out for me. But it wasn't without great effort and a 14 year playing career that I am extremely proud of. You see, in those 14 seasons, I experienced so many great things, traveled to so many great places, met and played with so many incredible people, and had so many unforgettable moments that made it all worth it....

Especially the moment when it was just "ME vs. MO"

Ray Navarrete

March 21, 2023 (20 Years Later)

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