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Baseball star Rivera rescues, renovates NY church

Mariano Riveras Church

By Jim Fitzgerald

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (AP) -- Now that he's retired, says he misses spring training and his Yankees teammates, but baseball doesn't compare to doing God's work.

"The baseball field is one thing. We won championships," Rivera said Thursday after the dedication of a once-crumbling church his foundation restored. "But this is totally on another level. This is to hopefully bring families closer to the Lord. ... Changing people's lives, that's what counts."

The legendary reliever's foundation poured about $3 million into the 107-year-old church for Refugio de Esperanza, or Refuge of Hope, the Pentecostal Christian congregation led by his wife, Clara.

"It has been a privilege to fulfill a dream that God put in our hearts," Rivera told the crowd of about 350 during an exuberant, bilingual, music-and-Scripture-filled celebration. Sunlight, filtered through new stained glass windows, provided a golden glow beneath the church's old but restored ceiling timbers.

Asked if the rescue of the church in downtown New Rochelle, about 6 miles north of Yankee Stadium, should be added to his record 652 saves, Rivera said, "You could say that. This was the big one."

Three years ago, the building was on the verge of collapse and being used to store evidence by the police department next door. That was when Rivera, whose home had been serving as the diverse congregation's meeting place, was looking for a bigger space.

The former North Avenue Presbyterian Church had been vacant since the 1970s and was badly in need of repair.

"It was in bad shape but I saw a beauty beyond that," Rivera said. "God gave us the inspiration and the desire to really renovate it and make it the thing it is. It wasn't me. It was the Lord."

Former City Councilman Joe Fosina, a longtime friend of Rivera who showed him the gray stone church, looked around the new space Thursday and said, "To come so far so quickly, it's amazing."

The city had taken over the building, and after paying to have the collapsing bell tower taken down, agreed to sell the building to Rivera for $1 - and his promise to rehabilitate it. One opponent at the time, City Councilman Louis Trangucci, said Wednesday he still feels the city should have tried to get more for the property. But he said the project has only enhanced the area "and I support what Mariano has done with the church."

Brandon Steiner, a Rivera business partner whose sports memorabilia firm is headquartered in New Rochelle, said he'd never seen Rivera so focused on a project.

"He was like the general contractor," Steiner joked. "He was in there directing painters."

Clara Rivera, speaking Spanish with a translator next to her, told the congregation, "We have prayed, we have worked and patiently we have waited for the exact moment when God has given the order to be here in this building. On this day, it now becomes a reality."

Then she thanked her husband "for everything you have done for this to be possible."

The wildly popular former Yankee, 44, had been quiet about the project. Most residents walking by the church earlier this week did not even know he was involved in the restoration.

Across the street at Kenny's Barbershop, Carlos Sanchez has been watching the renovation every day.

"It looks a lot better," the barber said. He even met Rivera at the site several times.

"He's a cool guy," Sanchez said. "And look what he's doing, a new church in the neighborhood."

Join the discussion

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dblbaraje March 07 2014 at 1:06 PM

God gave this man his talent, and now he is paying it back. This should be on the front page of every media source in the world. This man is a Class Act with a capital C. God Bless Him.
(PS Maybe he can pray for the future Yankees, they are going to need a lot of help!)
Yes, I am a life long Yankee fan. There will never be another one like him.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Rabbi Moishe March 07 2014 at 9:31 AM

Mariano Rivera continues to be a shining beacon to all sports fans and the new Pride of the Yankees.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
laterjack March 07 2014 at 9:35 AM

We need more Mario's in this world

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
justdkr laterjack March 07 2014 at 9:56 AM

It's "Mariano".

Flag Reply +1 rate up
aabs22179 laterjack March 07 2014 at 10:01 AM

Where is Luigi

Flag Reply 0 rate up
elpumkin March 07 2014 at 9:52 AM

Great story concerning a great ball player.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
roundhill1 March 07 2014 at 9:55 AM

What a class act. Why would this surprise anyone. He is even better off the diamond then when he played and he was the best in a Yankee uniform. Thank you for your wonderful contribution. May God bless you and your family.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
sosafong March 07 2014 at 10:37 AM

I am so proud to share the same culture with this man. I love how Hispanics love God and they can acquire lots of money and still remain grounded. God bless this man and his wife and their mission.
You do this not because you are a ball player but because you are a God fearing Hispanic which makes in much better!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
nyhuguenot sosafong March 07 2014 at 1:13 PM

"There is neither free nor slave, man nor woman, Jew nor Greek... Hispanic has nothing to do with it. It's Christian "culture". You can find the scripture reference yourself.

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blade138and March 07 2014 at 10:08 AM

caminar con Dios Mariano!! He retires last year now Jeter after this season. We don't have, as of now, anything resembling a new core of players we can really say, "Future looks secure" as to the way these two men played the game and carried themselves off the field. When a new face of the Yankees will appear is anyone's quess.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Easter March 07 2014 at 10:12 AM

A man of principle and a man of faith. What a great combination. He is not only the greatest closer, he is a significant "opener."

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
Ric Easter March 07 2014 at 10:42 AM

Great comment...totally agree

Flag Reply +2 rate up
leonwhawker March 07 2014 at 10:17 AM

Marino was a great pitcher but also a Hall of Famer for the Lord. We need more athletes like him to come forward with their convictions of doing the Lord's work.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
dbn3 March 07 2014 at 10:22 AM

Just an all around class guy!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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