As a White Sox fan, I’m not a fan of the New York Yankees. However, I am a fan of Mariano Rivera – World Series MVP, MLB All Star and reliever with the most saves in baseball history.

I’m also a fan of people who take time to share personal stories face to face, with a focus on human touch, emotion and intimacy. In our business, it is very easy to delude ourselves into thinking the social media revolution will save the day and add deeper meaning to our personal lives as well as enrich and improve our professional careers. But digital communication is often temporary and intangible and it can’t provide or replace the depth and richness of a live experience like the one Rivera is currently providing across the country in his final season.


Not all stories and storytellers are created equal. Rivera has a great story to share: he couldn’t speak any English for his first two years in baseball. He grew up poor in Panama City, Panama (born in 1969). He used old milk cartons as baseball gloves, a tree branch for a bat and created a ball by twisting and taping old fishing nets with tape. But Rivera found only joy in his childhood.

When Rivera announced his retirement during spring training, he revealed his intention to commune with fans and team employees in each city. New York Yankees Public Relations director, Jason Zillo, brainstormed the idea to spend time with local fans and workers in every road city – not just a cattle call for autographs and digital photos to be posted all over social media but real, honest dialogue about the others’ lives as much as Rivera’s – neither Rivera nor Zillo understood the power of what they were creating.


Stories are two way! Great stories open minds and hearts. Stories are shared, not told. Stories can be memorized but the reaction, connection and response of the audience is the unexpected joy, the real value. Stories that don’t elicit an emotional response from our audience are flat, fleeting and feel like a lecture!

The results of this face-to-face tour is amazing on multiple levels for Rivera, baseball fans, Major League Baseball and even Yankee haters! In Detroit, Rivera received a plaque containing dirt from Comerica Park and Tiger Stadium. In Cleveland, he met the Indians fan who pounds a bass drum during games. But those are the expected outcomes: the sort of basics of marketing and PR 101 objectives. The real win was the stories others shared: a scared young pitcher whose cancer had returned, parents who recently lost a son in a car accident and a young boy with Cerebral Palsy. Rivera listened, offered hope and even prayer. Also, he often reached out and embraced people with a comforting hug, simple touch on the shoulder or hand holding; the simple human touch that adds to the live experience!


Talk is cheap and listening is priceless! For many of us in the communications business, a consistent listening skill can always be improved. Rivera did very little of the talking during these conversations. He truly listened and simply provided emotional support.

This simple face-to-face social media tour is a big success for major league baseball. Major League Baseball is now considering tours with other players with the personalities, skillsets and motivational stories that could bring more inspiration to other fans. FLIRT looks at this success as reaffirming our commitment to the power of live events while embracing the impact and value of digital at the same time. Our mission is to always blend high-tech with high-touch and Rivera could easily be our spokesperson.

Michael Petan is the Creative Director at FLIRT Communications