There were so many family and friends at Citi Field to see T.J. Rivera Wednesday night as the long journey to the Major Leagues was here. The New York Mets in need of offense made the decision to bring the 27-year old Bronx native to the big club and it was a rapid roster move.
Manager Terry Collins said, GM Sandy Alderson quickly told him after the Mets loss Tuesday night to the last place Arizona Diamondbacks, that T.J. Is on the way. Collins only comment to his GM was, “Great.”
And so with that, the long journey for T.J. Rivera, who played ball with the Throgs Neck Little League, and as an all-city star with the Lehman High School Lions, culminated with his insertion in the starting lineup Wednesday night at third base with hopes of generating some runs for a Mets team that is last in runs.
Collins also has a right-handed hitter with a predominant left-handed bench. More so, Rivera has been the hottest hitter at Triple-A Las Vegas in the friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League. But this is not the PCL, and Rivera is aware of that after leading the league in hitting and placing third in RBI, with 80.
His high school coach, Adam Droz, was the one person Rivera did not greet and get the congratulation hand shake. Rivera did get numerous text messages and the two will meet eventually on this Mets current homestand.
Droz purchased his ticket and watched from the first base side, in the vicinity of Rivera’s proud mom and dad. He, more than anyone knew how proud the moment was for his former outfielder and occasional infielder.
“This was a day he wanted and I am so proud of him,” Droz said prior to game time. Rivera was quickly rushed into the routine of learning the signals, meeting most of his teammates that were also with him in the spring down in Port St. Lucie Florida, so that adjustment was easy.
It was the moment and anxiety of being where he always wanted to be.
“It’s Just unreal right now,” said Rivera prior to game time. “It still hasn’t hit me fully. You start to wonder if this year is going to be the year you get the call but you you try to put that behind you. And grind away at the season.”
His father Tommy is a Mets fan, and T.J. the Yankee fan from the Bronx. Rivera could hear his dad rooting loud, just like he did when playing for the Throgs Neck Little League. Though this time,he was behind home plate at Citi Field as his son fielded third base with no problems,
Then it was Rivera’s turn, his first at bat in the Major Leagues . The journey after Lehman included time at Wallace Community College with former Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, and at Troy University. He was not drafted but the Mets scouting bureau knew he was good enough and signed Rivera to a minor league deal.
From there it was a matter of time and getting better at Double-A Binghampton and the last two years in Las Vegas, and before that through the other Mets minor league affiliates including the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York Penn League.
Collins said, Rivera will get playing time at third base until the injured Jose Reyes returns within the next week, and maybe some time in the outfield where that right handed bat is a necessity for the Mets.
So there was Rivera, his first at bat in the second inning with two outs. He received a nice ovation, obvious from the friends and family, but there are Mets fans who have also been awaiting his arrival for some hopeful and needed punch in the lineup, With two outs he fouled off a few and then a ground ball out, pitcher to third and to first.
“Trying to clear my mind,” Rivera said. “A lot of things going through your mind. All the work you put in and just try to have a good at bat. The atmosphere and all the fans, you try and block those things out and have some fun.”
But it is a different type of fun now for Rivera. The Bronx and his days playing wiffle ball, talking baseball, and now representing his neighborhood and home borough are memories. Rivera is now here to hopefully be a major contributor for the New York Mets.
And the first hit, it came in the 10th inning, a leadoff single to center off the Diamondbacks’ Daniel Hudson.
“After I got my first hit,” Rivera said, “I felt I was at my high point. I have had great family and coaches. They have been with me through the beginning trying to learn the game. They pushed me to be great and be here. All the credit goes to them.”
He was asked, who will be the recipient of being granted the ball from the first hit? “I don’t know,” Rivera said. “Probably my Dad.” It now becomes more of a question as to how long Rivera stays with the big club. The Mets need the offense in their pursuit of a NL wild card spot, and Rivera has to learn the Major League pitching which is quite different from the PCL.
It will be an adjustment period, but Rivera has always learned to be in that position. Big league rosters expand from 25- to 40 come September 1, so there is every reason to believe if Rivera hits he will not get that brief cup of coffee of the big leagues.
Then, T.J. Rivera said it again: “Just seeing a Bronx kid making it.” He is here and the journey for now is complete until further notice.
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