LAKEWOOD RANCH -- As New York Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera takes the field for his final games this week, a Lakewood Ranch company he's involved with plans to honor his career.
LED lighting system company Evolucia has unveiled a commemorative baseball with blue LED lights embedded and embossed Rivera' autograph, uniform number and career stats. The ball retails for $59.99 and serves as a collector's item. Proceeds will benefit the Mariano Rivera Foundation, which provides assistance to educational organizations for underprivileged children.
"Having someone like Mariano participate, and having someone like Mariano to come up with an LED baseball to commemorate his career is an honor," said Evolucia CEO Mel Interiano.
Interiano credits the ball to the Yankee's creativity asking the company to involve LED lighting with Rivera's day job.
"We put the task to our engineering team and they said that's perfect," Interiano said. "Let's come up with an LED baseball, but an LED baseball of Mariano Rivera quality, and something that's affordable and everyone can have access to."
The balls are being sold through Steiner Sports Marketing & Memorabilia, and the final product will be ready after Rivera throws his final pitch so his up-to-date career stats will be printed on the ball, said Roseann Wentworth, spokeswoman for Evolucia. The ball can be purchased at www.evolucia.com/mariano
The Yankees closer, who could face the Tampa Bay Rays this week, is a pitchman for the product, as well as
a shareholder in Evolucia. The longevity and quality of Evolucia lights goes hand-in-hand with the quality and longevity of Rivera's career, Interiano said. Rivera's 652 saves as of Sunday, is the most of all time in Major League Baseball.
"He is one in the world. He is world class, and that's what we're trying to build here -- a world class company," Interiano said.
Evolucia is a quickly growing company constructingits headquarters at 7040Professional Parkway inLakewood Ranch. Depending on how fast the company grows, 100 to 150 people could be at that office, plant and research and development space by the end of the year, Interiano said, including one recent hire who holds a doctorate specializing in lighting.
"If you look at who Mariano is, he's well intended for the environment, and that's what we do at Evolucia -- our products are good for the environment," he said.
"The longevity, and he's a solid person. I associate that with who we are as a company. Not only from a quality perspective from the quality of our design and our product, but the quality of our people."
The Panamanian pitcher is using Evolucia's LED lighting in his home country. Evolucia is also retrofitting Rivera's church in New Rochelle, N.Y., where the Yankee will spend much of his time after retirement.
"By switching to LEDlights, we can all cut our electricity bills by 60 to80 percent. That's important to people here in the United States, and it's vital tothose in Panama," said Rivera in a news release. He is declining media interviews as he winds down his career.
Interiano sees several benefits of LED lighting: in addition to energy savings and keeping conventional light bulbs out of the waste stream, there's now a security benefit because LED enables facial recognition security lighting as well enables developing countries and cities to modernize their environment.
While kids can practice doing a Rivera cutter with the lighted baseball, it's not recommended for batting practice. The ball bounces off the ground like a normal ball thanks to its core, but beyond that and the electronic components, Interiano is mum on the make-up of the ball since his company filed intellectual protection on the design.
That still won't prevent curious geeks from dissecting the ball like the electronic aficionados do with newiPhones, inspecting every chip and sensor involved.
The ball is about the size of a regulation Major League ball's 9 to 9 ¼-inch circumference and 5 to 5 ¼ ounces, according to the company.
The ability for the company to create the ball signifies the nimbleness and creativity of the company, and the creation is considered a milestone by Interiano.
As the ball leaves a light trail when being thrown, one could only imagine that if design's involved, it could be used as a training tool for young pitchers honing their delivery. That intrigues Interiano.
"What we intend to do from the research and development prospective now that the technology is digital, is to understand how technology can improve human behavior, human performance," he said, declining to divulge further details of the plans.
"We have a world-class laboratory cominghere, and we're going to have a complete line of equipment to test everything associated with LED lighting," he said.
Only one thing could throw a curve ball, or perhaps a cutter, in all of this. What if Rivera decides not to retire despite his announcement?
"I hope he does, and I hope he doesn't," Interiano said jokingly.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.