Mariano Rivera — the greatest closer in baseball history — walked off the field in the middle of an inning this week. If it was up to him he would have stayed in, recorded the final out and walked back to the dugout, head down with the same calmness as he did in all of his 1,115 Major League appearances. Instead, the man lauded for his ability to relieve was lifted from the game to get his due, a raucous ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd. Rivera had done all he could for the game he loved, and been a model of professionalism and class every step of the way. As he left the field, he stopped and looked up with tears in his eyes, with the elegance of a king gracing his people for the final time. The feeling was something he always knew but only now was it as tangible as ever — the game loved him back.
The moment was truly special — no matter what team has your allegiance — because it was a reminder that the greatest exits are reserved for those who set forth virtues that are larger than life. These moments are rare, because men who play the game the “right way,” as Cal Ripken did, or exhibit the bravery of a Lou Gehrig, don’t come along often.
The entire premise of Eastbound and Down is Kenny Powers taking Neil Young’s words to heart: “it’s better to burn out then to fade away.” Only Kenny is too proud to accept the inevitable end. He starts a long road back to the top after burning out of baseball and ultimately claws his way back to get within one pitch of a comeback story of a lifetime in the final episode of season three. In his audiobook, he admits at that moment he achieved everything he ever wanted. It was his one last chance to flip the bird to anyone who ever doubted him. He was ready to receive his due.
And then the ball drops out of his hand. Kenny came to the realization that he didn’t love the game — he loved April. That’s why he made the comeback attempt, that’s why he left her at the gas station, that’s why he whispers “April’s tits” before burning a life-changing fastball in Mexico. Not many men can walk off the field. Usually the game has to be taken from them. It wasn’t the satisfying ending for the controversial figure that fans wanted but it was the happy ending that Kenny, a re-born family man, deserved.
Lost in last night’s Breaking Bad euphoria was the beginning of the end for HBO’s closer, Kenny Powers. He’s been overlooked and underappreciated before but going up against arguably one of the greatest shows of all time was almost a poetic reminder that Kenny’s final chapter is one where he must accept the inevitable — seamlessly transitioning into private life with the grace of a Mariano Rivera.
Eastbound and Down was always meant to be a three-season saga, but after a push from HBO, creators Jody Hill and Danny McBride agreed to pen the final chapter of Kenny’s story. The show picks up with Kenny immersed in a job selling rental cars, attempting to keep his cussing to a minimum in front of his two adorable children and finishing a screenplay based on a life where he “didn’t win baseball but he did win life.”
After faking his own death, he returned at his own funeral and married the love of his life. It’s clear that Kenny has moved on from baseball and accepted it. Old Kenny is no more. He’s now a caring father and it’s a welcome and beautiful sight, seeing a man who has ditched his former ways. “The only drug I get fucked up on is my wife and kids and I get fucked up on them every single night,” he proudly proclaims.
This new, tamed Kenny is a departure from the character that busted onto the scene in 2009, but after 22 episodes, even Kenny without an edge or focus is compelling. You’d think Kenny’s badass, rebel without a cause act would have gotten old after chapter five but now at the start of the fourth season it’s become clear that Hill and McBride created a character you never want to see leave your screen.
Sure, Old Kenny comes creeping around toward the end of the episode when he tastes life as a big-time sportscaster. It sets up a clear goal for Kenny and will be the anchor behind what promises to be the final chapter, for real this time.
Last night we caught a glimpse of the man Kenny Powers could be. At some point, players have to grow up, move on and start the rest of their life. MLB Jesus, a parody Twitter account, put Mariano Rivera’s exit in the perfect context: “The best part of Mariano: As great as he has been, we all know in our hearts his best work is yet to come.”
Eastbound and Down was already given the perfect ending after season three. Kenny walked off the field and put others before himself for once. Where a show like Breaking Bad, or a successful career in baseball is a finite endeavor, life goes on until someone or something takes you off this earth.
The story of Kenny Powers doesn’t really end. There’s plenty of life left in the man with the iconic mullet. He knew when to walk away from the game and as Eastbound and Down takes its final curtain call it will slowly leave television as it lets the fans ponder what happens after the fame has reached its climax.
Isn’t that what the great ones do?