T.J. Rivera expected to be wearing a Mets uniform somewhere this season. Coming off Tommy John surgery, the infielder figured it might not be a major league uniform right away, but he thought that at the very least, a Mets patch would be on his sleeve. Then, on March 9, he got the news. He had been released outright.
Rivera, 30, would have to find work elsewhere — away from the only major league organization he had ever known.
“I kind of had a feeling and could feel the energy change when I had a little setback in spring, so I knew something was coming. But I didn’t think it was going to be a release,” said Rivera, who signed with the Ducks on July 6. “I thought maybe I’d be sent down. But you know, they had their plan and their guys and they made a lot of moves in the offseason … You just have to roll with it. I was definitely surprised, but at the same time, I understand it’s a business. They had their plan and I wasn’t part of it.”
For eight seasons, including parts of two at the big-league level, Rivera was part of the Mets' plans. From 2016-17, he played 106 games with the Mets, hitting .304 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs.
“It’s been a blessing,” Rivera said of his Mets tenure. “The past front office gave me an opportunity to play the game I love to play for work, and not many people get to do that. I was very blessed to get signed, work my way up the organization, made a lot of good friends, a lot of good people, a lot of really good coaches, and I had nothing but positive energy from that whole experience … Getting released, it was a new front office and a new group of guys, but the people before that, they were nothing but good to me.”
Rivera played 73 games in 2017 and hit .290 with five home runs and 27 RBIs before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in September. Aside from a few rehab games, Rivera missed all of last season.
“When I heard the news, it was devastating because I was at a time in my career where I finally made it to the big leagues and was feeling comfortable,” Rivera said. “… It’s been a roller-coaster-type recovery, lot of ups and downs, lot of frustration just because of the situation. I wanted to keep playing and my arm just wasn’t working for me. I’m just blessed that it feels great and now I can move forward in my career and just put that behind me.”
Rivera will move forward with an old friend — Ducks manager Wally Backman, who managed Rivera in the Mets' organization with Triple-A Las Vegas. Rivera said he knew that if he ended up going the independent ball route, Backman and the Ducks were the only way to go — a sentiment that’s been shared by many of Backman’s former players.
“He’s just good with the players,” Rivera said. “He lets them be themselves. He teaches you the way of the game. He’s got a little old school in him. I enjoy that and I think a lot of the players do as well.”
Rivera was indoctrinated to the Ducks' culture with a champagne shower. He went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI in his debut on July 6. Midway through the game, the Ducks clinched their first first-half championship since 2016 — by virtue of a Somerset Patriots loss — and earned an automatic bid to the playoffs, which will begin in September. It is their fifth consecutive playoff berth.
Not a bad first day.
“It was nice to be a part of something,” Rivera said. “These guys have worked hard to get where they are … Not often do you join a team and the next day you get to celebrate with some champagne. It was a good time.”
Ducks reliever and Islip native Rob Rogers threw a scoreless sixth inning in the Atlantic League All-Star Game last Wednesday in York, Pennsylvania. Rogers returned from Tommy John surgery in early June and, entering the weekend, had allowed three earned runs in 10 appearances this season.
Rogers' Ducks teammate, Joe Iorio, pitched a scoreless third inning despite yielding three hits. L.J. Mazzilli went 1-for-2 with a walk, David Washington went 1-for-4, Deibinson Romero went 0-for-1 and former Met Kirk Nieuwenhuis went 0-for-2 with a strikeout. Nieuwenhuis informed the Ducks Friday afternoon that he was retiring.
The Freedom Division defeated the Liberty Division, 4-3, in a "homer-off'’ after the score remained tied at 3 after nine innings.