August 10, 2016 – TJ Rivera entered Tuesday night’s doubleheader with the New York Mets affiliate Las Vegas 51s leading the Pacific Coast League with a .349 Batting Average and 80 RBIs, and had just been named the PCL Player of the Week for a second time. He also boasted 26 doubles and 11 Home Runs and was hitting .517 in his past week, so when skipper Wally Backman called him into the office and told him that he was going to be rested for the second game of a scheduled doubleheader, TJ was a bit surprised. It was then that the six year minor leaguer, with a .323 career average, the best in all of baseball, and many individual awards and accolades to his credit, was informed that he better hurry home to pack so he could make his red-eye to New York which was leaving in a couple of hours. The long overdue “call to the show” finally came.
Rivera is a Bronx native who played his prep baseball at Lehman High School. He was on the inaugural New York Nine Scout Team in 2006, helping lead the club to its first ever regional birth. Rivera then set the Nine record with a .508 batting average in 2007, as he homered three times in an NABF regional playoff game versus the Long Island Tigers to propel the Nine to their first World Series appearance in Jackson, Mississippi (where the Nine subsequently finished third). Rivera still holds many top ten records listed on the Scout team leaderboard.
After solid campaigns at both George Wallace CC in Dothan, Alabama, then Troy State, Rivera went undrafted. Two Hundred rounds had passed in the four years that he was draft eligible and his name was never called. Rivera had turned down an opportunity after his sophomore year to sign as a converted catcher with an American League club and began to wonder if that would have been his only chance at professional baseball. When the New York Mets had a need for a “filler” infielder at the lowest possible level, Rivera got his shot. The expectation is he would stick around long enough to fill the needed roster spot, but then Rivera hit, hit some more, and only had one sub-.300 season in the minor leagues. As players of lesser offensive skill were promoted over him, TJ kept his laser-like focus, professional workman like approach and attitude. He knew that if he kept doing his job that at some point he would get the opportunity and be ready for it. Preparation met opportunity on Tuesday.
“I couldn’t be happier for the Rivera family, specifically for TJ,” stated Nine President Ian Millman. “I think it would be tough to find anyone who has had to have the patience and fortitude shown by TJ year after year, to keep showing up for work and putting up the numbers he did while many others got the opportunity he had earned. They say that once you get past double-A the results speak for themselves and those who deserve the shot will get it. I was starting to question why the Mets didn’t give him that chance as he hit around .350 mutiple times in double and triple-A. What I can tell the world about Rivera is he is a first rate person, has an unbelievable amount of self-confidence which I know helped him through these past couple of years, and has the best barrel-to-ball skills of any player I have ever coached, and among the best I’ve ever seen. He has always been able to hit. There is no doubt in my mind that with TJ, if the Mets let him put his foot in the door, he will kick it off the hinges. The kid just needs a fair chance”.
Rivera started at third base against the Arizona Diamondbacks just hours after landing in New York, with about 30 members of his friends and family in attendance. They also got to witness his first big league hit, a single to open the home half of the tenth inning. Be sure to keep an eye on, and root for, one of our own – Thomas Javier Rivera of the hometown New York Mets.