COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The Baseball Hall of Fame is not just about talent and numbers. It is more than that. It is about strength, the inner strength it takes to survive and move forward in the major leagues.
That strength was on display Sunday in multiple ways at the Clark Sports Center in front of a crowd of 55,000 fans who came to see this Hall of Fame class, led by Mariano Rivera.
In every way Rivera is a product of that inner strength, coming from a small fishing village in Panama to become the greatest closer of all time. He had to come to another country and learn how to speak a new language, and some nights he cried himself to sleep in the minors because he felt out of place.
The Yankee icon talked about the blessings he received along the way to rise to the top of his profession and about making the most of each opportunity, the fortitude it took and the strength it took to overcome hurdles like when he and another young Yankee, Derek Jeter, were sent back to the minors in 1995.
Rivera said he and Jeter were “literally crying’’ in a Bennigan’s after that move was made, but both men continued to progress, eventually winning five world championships together with the Yankees.
Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte — with Rivera members of the Core Four — and Tino Martinez were seated here in the heat to support their teammate because that is the way those Yankees succeeded — together.
That develops inner strength, too. Careers come to a close but teammates are forever.
“Mo wanted me here, I had to be here for Mo,’’ Jeter, the CEO of the Marlins, told The Post.
Added Posada, who flew up in a private jet with Jeter from Miami: “It was important for me to be here. When Mo called me and said he wanted me to be here, I said for sure I would be here. Thank God for Derek, he got me out of the house in Miami and we came up.’’
There was another kind of strength on display Sunday, too, as the late Roy Halladay’s wife, Brandy, had the courage to give a speech that had to be so difficult to make, telling her husband’s story and even noting, “With hard work, humility and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments.’’
Rivera, the man with 652 saves, was the closer on this day, too, giving the sixth and final speech after Mike Mussina, Brandy Halladay, Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith, and picking up pieces of information during the other speeches to make his 25-minute talk that much more effective.
As Brandy Halladay spoke, Rivera appreciated the strength she showed.
“That’s tough, I don’t wish no one to go through that,’’ Rivera said later. “We’re all going to go through it [losing loved ones], but I was just praying for her, losing your husband, someone you love, in a tragedy like that. And now to see all those videos and everything. That person should have been here and now he’s not, it’s hard to understand it.
“But again, it happened, all I was trying to do was just pray and support her in prayers because the Lord can give us strength, especially in moments like this.’’
With Rivera going in this year and Jeter slated to be the Class of 2020, will he be another unanimous selection like Rivera, the first unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame?
These two years will feature Yankee legends.
“I tried to carry the pinstripes the best that I could,’’ Rivera said. “I think I did all right with that.’’
For his part, and this is not surprising at all, Jeter did not even want to entertain the thoughts that he will be on stage next year when I asked him, telling me, “Whoa, I’m not even going to go there.’’
Posada, too, did not want to go there, saying, “Derek doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t want to say anything. I know it is going to happen. It is just a matter of time. If he wants me here, and just like I said with Mariano, I will be here.’’
To offer support and strength.