Binghamton Mets infielder T.J. Rivera is in his fourth season in the Mets organization and, just like the first three, is posting impressive offensive numbers.
The 25-year-old Bronx, N.Y. native has never hit below .289 at any stop as a professional and has climbed the system ladder, despite signing as an undrafted free agent from Troy University in Alabama. Initially, he was happy to just put on an affiliate uniform, especially for a New York team, but his motto of working harder than anyone else has led to annual success and an outside chance of playing at Citi Field sometime in the future.
Recently, Robert Brender caught up with him…
Brender: You went to college at Troy in Alabama. How does a guy from the Bronx wind up in Alabama?
Rivera: It weird. I grew up in New York, in the Bronx and all my summer coaches — I played for the New York Nine — had a connection with coaches from a junior college in Alabama. So I went down to Wallace Junior College for two years and they all knew Mackey Sasser [the coach there]… From there, I signed with Troy. Both those schools are in Alabama. It was a whole other world compared to the Bronx but it was a great experience for me. It was a lot of fun down there.
Brender: Were you a Yankee fan or a Mets fan and what was it like to wind up with a New York team?
Rivera: It was awesome to wind up on any New York team but I was a Yankees fan growing up. My dad was the only one really in the family who was a Mets fan. Everyone else pretty much around me were Yankees fans and I pretty much grew up a Yankees fan but to be on any New York team and to represent New York is just a great experience and I’ve just been really grateful.
Brender: Did you feel like a traitor at first putting on the Mets uniform?
Rivera: I did. A lot of my buddies were Mets fans too, so all of them were excited for me but I was really just blessed to put on any kind of uniform.
Brender: How was the experience playing for the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2011 with all your friends and family close by?
Rivera: That’s probably one of the best times I’ve had playing in my whole career. That experience, that park and the fans are awesome. Being 30-45 minutes away from home was even a better experience. My family got to come out on the weekends and even some of the night games during the week. I was able to see a lot of friends from school who I hadn’t seen in a while and just a lot of support.
Brender: Was it frustrating for you to be sent back to St. Lucie several times, especially to start this season?
Rivera: I was definitely at first, when I got the news, a little frustrated and a little put down but I came here as a free agent, not a high pick or a guy that’s going to be a priority really. I knew things like this would happen so I was going to have to work double as hard as a lot of people. It let me down a little bit in the beginning but I just try to keep a positive attitude and just control things I can control. The people around me, my family and my friends, are really a big help in keeping my mental game strong and just going out there and playing and not worrying about those things.
Brender: What’s the key to your success offensively?
Rivera: I think it’s a mental thing for me because, whether in college or high school, I was always trying to be the hardest worker and always tried to work on my mechanics. I was always a confident person and always went out there and played my hardest but I never really had a mental game and I never really had a game plan when I went to the plate. I think, as I started playing pro ball, the mental game has really kicked in for me and I think that’s what has kept me the strongest. Trying to put balls in play hard and trying to work good counts. I really try to go up there and have a good at-bat and I think that’s helped me. If I can go up there, instead of hoping for a hit or a bloop or something that will boost my average, those kind of things I like to put out the window. I like to go up there and hope for a good at-bat and try to battle every time. And I figured if I can do that for 500 at-bats, try not to take any at-bats off, the results will be fine. Luckily, I’ve been having good success and thankfully so. Hopefully, I can keep it going.
Brender: You’ve played everywhere on the infield defensively. Is that a big key for you, to stay versatile?
Rivera: It is. I know I’m not a guy who’s going to profile to a position for the Mets. I know I’m not going to hit a lot of home runs and stick at first base or on the corner. But I know that if I can play all the positions and play them well that I’ll open up some eyes for a lot of teams or for the Mets. But I know that will open up some doors if you can play a lot of positions and I’m willing to play any position I can possibly play. It’s harder because you don’t know what position you’re playing that day or that game but if you can control how you play those positions every day and come out ready to play anywhere I think that might help open doors for me.
Brender: What’s it like playing up the middle defensively with Dilson Herrera and what’s your take on his offensive ability?
Rivera: He’s an awesome kid. He’s a lot more mature than most 20-year-olds. His approach is really good. He’s a confident kid. Playing with him up the middle is fun because he knows how to play the position really well at second base. The kid is really smart and his approach at the plate is unreal. He’s a strong 20-year-old. Honestly, what impresses me the most about him is his attitude. At 20-years-old, I don’t think I had the maturity he has. He’s a really good guy on and off the field. He makes it fun to play with him.