Mariano Rivera hopes his latest pitch changes the lives of 2 billion people.
The former Yankees closer believes a new professional baseball league serving India, Pakistan and the Middle East will revolutionize his sport and develop a fresh generation of players and fans.
Rivera is the co-president of the new United International Baseball League, which he says can provide young athletes with a path similar to the one he carved out as an amateur pitcher in Panama who became Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader.
“Coming up from Panama, not having much, but just having an opportunity to play the game that I love, is what motivated me to do the same for those in Pakistan, India, the Middle East, who don’t have a lot,” Rivera told the Daily News.
“We have to create the opportunity for them to become the next superstar. Doing that, it’s fascinating, because you don’t know what you’re going to face. … How many Mariano Riveras are you going to find there?”
The UIBL was founded by investor Kanwal Sra, a New York University graduate and Ernst & Young alum who saw the chance to introduce America’s pastime to the 2 billion residents of the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East region with the first-ever professional baseball league there.
Rivera and Sra believe baseball has a chance to thrive in countries where cricket is among the most popular sports.
“It’s not the same game, but it’s similar,” Rivera said. “They have to hit the ball. They have to catch the ball. They have to run and all that stuff. In doing that already, cricket has helped us to continue doing something different.
“You have the opportunity to teach the game of baseball in different countries,” Rivera said. “Countries that have the potential to bring Major League players to Major League Baseball.”
The UIBL announced Monday that it will hold a showcase in Dubai next February featuring teams from India, Pakistan, the United States and Dubai. The league plans to expand to a full season featuring eight teams in 2024.
“India’s population is about 1.3 billion. You’ve got 900 million people who follow the sport of cricket,” Sra told The News. “The average age of people who watch in India is 34. The average age in America of baseball fans is 57. We see an amazing opportunity to be able to grow the game and develop a lot of the younger people.”
Rivera pitched each of his 19 MLB seasons with the Yankees, recording 652 saves and winning five World Series. The team retired his No. 42 in 2013, and in 2019 he became the only player to be unanimously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He’s eager to inspire young players through the UIBL in the same way athletes from Panama motivated him.
“There were players like Roberto Kelly, who was part of the New York Yankees, and many other Panamanians that played before, who were in the same conditions as mine,” Rivera said. “Maybe a little bit worse. But at the same time, you have that opportunity, you receive the opportunity, and you just take advantage.”
Fellow Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin also partnered with the UIBL to help bring visibility to the venture. Rivera believes they have the right roster of executives to make the league succeed.
“This is going to be something special,” Rivera said.