While T.J. Rivera did not grow up far from Citi Field, his path to the majors was not exactly an easy one.
The Bronx product and undrafted free agent made his major-league debut for the Mets Wednesday night, in front of a contingent of family and friends he said was too large to count.
“It still feels unreal,” said Rivera, who started at third base. “I’m really just proud and happy for my family to be able to experience it with me. I’m from about 15 minutes away so all my family will be here.”
After playing high school baseball at Lehman High School in the Bronx, he attended Wallace Community College in Alabama before transferring to Troy University but was not taken in the 2011 MLB draft.
“When I wasn’t drafted, honestly, I was trying to instantly figure out what am I going to do with my life? I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Rivera said. He did get the chance to pursue a baseball career when the Mets signed him as a free agent and assigned him to their Rookie League affiliate in June 2011.
“Once they signed me, I was going to have a chance just like everybody else, just like the guys that were drafted,” Rivera said. “I might have had to prove myself a couple of more times, but I knew it was an opportunity and I wasn’t going to let up on it.”
He seized the opportunity and earned a promotion to Triple-A last season, where he hit .335 with 13 home runs, a .378 on-base percentage and a .490 slugging percentage in 151 games with Las Vegas. This season, the righty is hitting .349 and .366 against lefties, which could make him an appealing platoon option.
“Sandy [Alderson] came in and he knows we’re pretty predominantly lefthanded and . . . said, ‘I think it’s time for Rivera,’ ” Terry Collins said. The Mets rank 22nd in the majors with a .250 batting average against lefties.
Collins said that, in spring training, “I was interested to see his swing and see what his approach was. A real short swing, not a lot of movement in the swing . . . We just tried to play him around and see where he could play and he swung the bat very well. Right now, the plan is to give him a chance to play some third base here.”
Rivera said he found out about his promotion from Las Vegas manager Wally Backman. “Wally called me into his office, kind of tricked me a little bit. He was telling me he was giving me a little rest, a little break for the second game [of a doubleheader]. And then he kind of snuck it up on me that I was flying out . . . It was pretty cool.”