COOPERSTOWN — There are many different roads to the Hall of Fame. This one started by not knowing how to get to Eastchester.
There was the young pitcher from Panama sitting in the Yankees clubhouse back in 1995. He was scheduled to see his agent in Eastchester to find an apartment, but did not speak the language and had no idea how to get there from Yankee Stadium.
Joe Fosina, the reconditioner of Yankees uniforms since 1978, essentially the team’s tailor, lived in New Rochelle, about 10 minutes from where the rookie was supposed to go. The clubhouse manager asked Fosina to take the kid, Mariano Rivera, outside to get a cab just to make sure the cabbie knew where he was going.
All this was 652 saves ago.
“The first day he got here, he had a piece of paper to go meet his agent,’’ Fosina, 82, told The Post on Friday. “I said it would be easier for me to drive him than for me to try to explain everything.’’
So Rivera, who was to become the greatest closer in baseball history, hopped in Fosina’s car to start his new baseball life.
“We had a language barrier, but we could communicate a little and he asked for my phone number and I knew how to count to 20 in Spanish so I gave him my number,’’ Fosina explained.
“The next day the phone rings, I pick it up and I hear Mo on the other end, ‘Mr. Joe.’ ’’ Fosina recalled. “I said, ‘Si.’ He said, “Stadium.’ So I knew what he wanted but I didn’t know how to answer it and I’m thinking and thinking and I remember a song they made in the ’60s, ‘Quando, Quando, Quando.’
“I said: ‘Quando?’ He said, ‘Dos,’ I said, ‘Si.’ And I picked him up.”
That was the start of a beautiful friendship that remains strong to this day, with Rivera telling The Post on Friday, “I love Joe.”
“For years we would drive to the Stadium together, back and forth, a lot of conversations through the years because we’d have to be there around the same time, around 2 p.m., and Mariano always had that balanced perspective,’’ Fosina said. “On rare days that he would not do well, on the way home he would say, ‘Joe, the hitters get paid, too.’ He would never let anything get to him. It was always a pleasure to be with him.’’
The friendship becomes even more special this weekend with the Hall of Fame festivities, culminating in Rivera’s induction Sunday along with Harold Baines, the late Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Lee Smith.
Enter Sandman. Unanimously.
Rivera is the first unanimous selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Fosina and his wife, Mickie, and 23 immediate members of his family will be there for the honor.
“It’s been a long haul, 25 years or so, and we’ve been friends with him since the first day by accident and all,’’ Fosina said. “We stayed close with Mariano and his wife Clara through the years and he lived in New Rochelle for nine years. He’s done a lot in our community back home, giving back to the kids on a regular basis. We are going to have a parade for him on the 27th, Saturday in New Rochelle after we get back. We even have a band coming from Panama.’’
Fosina and his wife have five boys and a daughter.
“At the beginning, one of my boys was dating a girl from Puerto Rico and she was bilingual and I talked her into coming over to help interpret,’’ Fosina said. “The relationship grew and grew. I’ve been to Panama with him five or six times. We’ve been all over.
“We even have family coming in from California. Mariano is so happy everyone will be there.’’
“Joe has been like family to me,’’ Rivera told The Post once. “From that first day, we clicked. He helped me in amazing ways, giving me rides, back and forth, teaching me the ways of New York and everything about the Stadium. Amazing.’’
Amazing that the journey to Cooperstown all started with a drive from Yankee Stadium to Eastchester.