A lot of Mets fans remember TJ Rivera. The undrafted free agent that went thru the Mets minor league system and into heart of Mets fans with some strong play. Rivera was a great force for the Mets during a pennant race in 2016, hitting a memorable go ahead homerun against Melancon and the Nats.
The now 33 year old Rivera played 106 games with the Mets between 2016 and 2017. He hit .304/.335/.445 with 8 homeruns and 43 RBI’s. Surprisingly enough, TJ didn’t get another shot in the majors besides strong numbers in his MLB stint with the Mets.
We asked TJ about what he is up to now, memories about his time with the Mets and more in this Q&A!
Q: First of all thank you for answering some questions. How have you been and what’s going on in your baseball career? Any news you can share?
TJ: I’ve been good. Spending a lot of time with the family. I finished up playing winter ball in PR in January and now I’m just hoping for another opportunity. I’m staying in shape and ready to go when that opportunity presents itself.
Q: We from MetsJunkies are obviously curious in your time as a Met. I read that former Met Mackey Sasser got the Mets attention to sign you? Can you about how that signing process went?
TJ: I went to Wallace community college and played for Mackey. After those two years I went to Troy university and went undrafted. It was a weird time for me because I wasn’t sure what my next move would be. I got a call shortly after the draft from Tommy Jackson and signed with the Mets a couple days later. For years I didn’t know how the Mets found me but I found out later it was Mackey who helped me out.
Q: You didn’t get drafted out of college after graduating in Crimenal Justice. After you didn’t get drafted, did your sights turn to working in criminal justice?
TJ: honestly I wasn’t sure what my next steps would be. I’ve always seen myself playing baseball and truly believed it was still going to workout. I have a degree in criminal justice but my passion is with baseball so hopefully when my playing career is over I can stick around the game.
Q: As an undrafted free agent, your road to the majors was different then the top prospects. What would you say were the biggest roadblocks in your road to the show? And you feel the biggest difference was between being a top prospect and an undrafted free agent?
TJ: For me the difference was that I had to keep proving myself over and over to make people believe what I believed and that was that I’m an MLB player. I totally understand if people were a little hesitant to move me through the system as fast as some top prospects. I understand the business side of things, but to me it didn’t matter. I just kept reminding myself that I had a jersey and an opportunity just like the first round picks.
Q: You played in all levels in the minor leagues. Which minor league location you most liked to play?
TJ: Out of the NY Mets affiliates I liked savannah the best. Grayson stadium was old but unique and I really enjoyed my time there. The fans were really great at every level.
Q: During your career, which coach or player helped you the most?
TJ: this is tuff because I’ve been helped my so many coaches throughout my career. I can go back to little league where coach Jocko was always there for us as kids. Coach Droz at my high school is where I really started to learn the game. Coach Ian Millman was my summer coach who helped get my name out there. All of my minor league coaches helped me throughout the years.
Q: Growing up, which player did you look up the most to?
TJ: Derek Jeter. I grew up a yankee fan and he was the captain. He helped bring championships to NY and did it in a way that I always admired.
Q: How did you hear the news you got the call up to the show?
TJ: Wally Backman pulled me in the office in between a double header and told me
I had the second game off and that I have a flight out to NY that night.
Q: You collected your first hit against Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks. Do you have a special place for the baseball?
TJ: I have it in a case with some other special balls. I need to get back with a team so I can add some more memorabilia to the collection.
Q: What’s your biggest moment as a Met?
TJ: there’s a couple special moments in my short time in NY but I would probably say my first game. Just another game for most but for me there was a lot that went into being able to stand on that field for the national anthem. A lot of sacrifice from others for me to be out there and I got to share that moment with them is the best part.
Q: Do you have any clubhouse stories you can share?
TJ: not really any I can think of
Q: You were part of the successful Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classics (beating my Netherlands in the Semi’s). Can you tell me how that experience was, playing with some of the best players in the game.
TJ: unreal. The passion, the energy and playing for someone other then yourself is pretty special. It seemed like we brought a lot of people together and I will forever be grateful for that experience.
Q: You got to the Majors because or your hitting abilities and your versatility. How did you learn to hit and how did you become so versatile in the field?
TJ: well my parents started me young and I’ve loved hitting ever since the beginning. I wasn’t always the best or strongest but I always had the ability to be on the barrel. Maybe it was all the wiffle ball games outside my building. The versatility came a little later. I always played short and around my sophomore year in college is when I started bouncing around to second and third. When I got to Troy we had a great shortstop so I pretty much had to find other ways on the field. Then I was in High A with multiple infield prospects and nowhere for me to play so I learned first base.
Q: You were a favorite player of a lot of Mets fans. Unfortunately you haven’t been in the majors since. Do you believe a difference in team valuing hitting, is a big part of the reason you didn’t get another shot so far? Is it difficult to make adjustments which current Front Offices value more?
TJ: when I got hurt it put me in a tuff position and I’ve been trying to work my way back ever since. I do believe in the couple years I missed the game change a bit and teams value certain things differently then when I was first coming up. It’s been tuff to find consistent work but that’s part of the business. I finally felt like myself the second half of last season. I know I can help any team right now it’s just a matter of getting that opportunity.
Q: After your playing career is over. Do you intent to find another job in baseball?
TJ: I would love to stay in the game. Whether it be on the field coaching or in the offices I hope to stay around the game for a long time.
Q: Thank you so much for answering some questions! As a Mets fan you will be remembered as a great contact hitter getting big hits in a pennant race.
TJ: thank you and all the fans for your support throughout the years.
We want to thank TJ Rivera for the time to answer our questions and hope he finds a spot to play soon! We will definitely follow his road in baseball (as a player or coach).
Photo Credit: Phils Nation