CHICO, Calif. - "They were two great guys. It's great to be able to say I played with (them)," said Chico's Tim Cooper, speaking of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
Cooper, now a branch manager for a Chico Mortgage Company, was also a big league prospect in the Yankee organization from 1989 through 1992, the same time that Rivera and Jeter were just beginning their star-studded careers.
"They had fun, patted you on the back," said the 43-year-old Cooper. "They didn't take themselves too seriously; no ego. They were just here to win, work together and try to be successful," he said.
Cooper's baseball career never quite got him into The Show, but he's being remembered in Rivera's upcoming autobiography as the person responsible for helping him to speak English while their Greensboro team traveled from one minor league park to the next down south.
"On the buses we'd have a game for the entire length of the ride he could only speak English and I could only speak Spanish," said Cooper.
Cooper remembers telling Rivera that when he makes it big, like he certainly did, he'll be grateful that he learned the language.
"No one wants to hear the translator," said Cooper. "Not to take anything away from Spanish, but that's going to be the moment when people could learn who you are."
"So from that moment on he continued to learn his English," said Cooper.
Cooper still speaks with his old teammates. In fact, at the end of last season Cooper and his wife went to Oakland during Rivera's farewell tour -- reminiscing of the past that includes meaningful times with the two of the game's most meaningful players.