With the St. Lucie Mets coming back in town this past weekend, to face the Fort Myers Miracle, I set out a few weeks ago to try and land an interview with one of their players. My first thought was since I picked second baseman T.J. Rivera as my first MMN Player of the Week honoree, it would be really cool to chat with him about the great season he has been having in High-A.
I reached out to Alex Kushel, who is the play by play announcer for the St. Lucie Mets, whom I met when I covered the Mets/Miracle game here in Fort Myers back in late June. I emailed Alex and requested to chat with T.J. Rivera prior to Sunday’s game and he responded that it would work. Upon receiving that email, the excitement in me took over. I have always dreamed about being in this position, but never did I imagine that my dream would actually come true.
After Alex granted me my wish, I now had to get prepared, and make sure that I had what I needed to make it a success. My good friend Humberto was visiting from New York with his family and he agreed to be my camera guy. I wanted to make sure I chronicled this event in every way.
We arrived at Hammond Stadium on Sunday around 12:45 pm and Alex met us at the front gate. We chatted for a bit about how nervous I was and he basically just told me not to worry about it. But I am not sure he understood what this really meant for me. Being a Mets fan all my life and now having the opportunity to have my first interview with a Mets player, to me that was huge.
We walked down under the stands and other players from the home team started to make their way out for their workout, but my mind was so focused on what I had to do, I paid no attention. It was kind of dark with occasional lighting in certain spots, so I asked Humberto to take some practice shots and he reassured me everything was good to go.
Alex disappeared into a door, which I assumed was the clubhouse and within a few minutes he came out with T.J. Rivera and introduced him to me and at this point the butterflies were really stirring up in my stomach and I felt like my mind was going blank. I took a deep breath and greeted T.J. with a handshake and said hello, he shook my hand and smiled back and greeted the both of us. At that moment, Humberto lifted his camera, took a picture and the flash from the camera lit up the darkness and at that moment it all sunk in, my first interview was underway.
David – You lead the league in hits, what do you attribute to your continued success at the plate?
T.J. – I just try to go up there with having a good approach and a plan that will help me execute, and just help my team win any way possible. If I have to move a guy over and do something small, that is my goal honestly.
David – Is there a Met manager or coach who has made an impact in your approach to the game and helped you with your performance?
T.J. – I think all the Mets coaching staff and everybody, they all help us out. I think they equally have a part in our success, and just try to take their advice, what they tell us about the game and try to learn from each and every one of them.
David – This question comes from one of our writers, you have shown enough at the Florida State League to warrant a promotion to Double-A to start next season. Are you looking forward to that challenge and have you set any goals for yourself for 2014?
T.J. – I try not to set some really outrageous goals, I just want to play to the best of my ability and try and get better every year, and if that does happen and I do get promoted next year to Double A, that would be awesome. I really try not to think about those little things, because you can get frustrated sometimes, and I just try to look at each day and play as hard as I can every game.
David – Who was your favorite player growing up and did you try to model yourself after him in any way?
T.J. – When I was a kid I used to watch the Yankees a lot growing up in the Bronx and I loved Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter were my two favorites and just the way they both carried themselves and played the game. They were amazing and they were just really humble. I think they play the game the way I want to play the game, they play hard all the time, never really had that cocky attitude and they just went about their business the right way. That’s always the way I wanted to play my game.
David – You have played both SS and 2B as well as 3B in your career, which position do you prefer?
T.J. – Honestly, third base used to be my favorite but I haven’t played there in so long, so I couldn’t tell you if I still like it or not, especially now that I’m playing here in pro ball. These guys are some big guys and they can turn on some balls, so I don’t know if I still like it as much as I used to (as he cracks a smile). Honestly, I’m comfortable at all positions, second base I think is honestly the easier one up the middle obviously from short because it is an easier throw. It’s a little harder to turn the double play, but it’s something I have gotten used to when I moved over to that side of the field, but I am really honestly comfortable in all the three positions.
David – What is something you would like to improve on in your game and have you made any progress?
T.J. – Probably add some speed and maybe my first step quickness. I want to be able to steal a couple of more bags, and if I can add that to my game, I think that would be huge being a middle infielder. I want to obviously add some power too; I didn’t have too much power this year, but adding some flexibility to my game to where I can have a first step quickness a little better than it was this year, a little burst and maybe show I can play shortstop a little better than I did last year, and of course add some power, hopefully I can get a little stronger.
David – I noticed you hit for power last year, do you feel that the pitching is different or has your approach been different?
T.J. – Honestly I don’t know, I feel that I’ve hit some balls that I could have gotten out in some places here but I mean, these fields are a little tougher to hit at. I don’t know if I have lost any power really or just the pitchers obviously get better here and there, but I think my approach last year was that I had it down to a tee and when I found my pitch I drove it. Once in a while now I missed it a couple of times here and there, but I don’t think strength wise I have lost any strength. I just want to be able to get the power back into my game, I think half way through the season, I hit a couple of balls that could have gone out or maybe I thought should have and it didn’t and I started pressing to try and hit home runs and that is obviously not going to work. You can’t try to hit one, it’s pretty tough to do, which I don’t think I have ever done and I don’t think anyone has ever done (as he laughs). I just got to stick with my game and hit doubles and base hits and if they come, they come.
David – What do you do to keep in shape in the off season?
T.J. – In the off season, I use the Mets training program and then I’ll add some stuff to myself in there with some explosive workouts and things of that nature. We had a really good trainer at Troy (University) in my senior year and I have a lot of his workouts that we used to use also and that is when I got really strong, the strongest I have ever been. So I try and add that workout in with the Mets program that they give me, just eat good and do those kind of things that will get me ready for Spring Training of next year. I just like to bust my butt in the gym, the biggest thing I think is that if you just give it your all in the gym that it will be harder to quit during the season, it kind of brings that mentality over to the season.
I told T.J. that I had to point this out to him, so I asked him if he knew that he was born on an important date in N.Y. Mets history (October 27) and if he knew what happened 2 years prior. I stumped him for a moment but he did say it had to do with the Mets and 1986 World Series, and when I said that was the exact day the Mets won the World Series he thought it was awesome, really got a kick out of it, but hey who could blame him for not knowing exactly the date, he wasn’t even born yet.
T.J. Rivera was the perfect first interview for me, because he was very humble and responded to every question was ease and a lot of patience. At times I think I may have mumbled through the question with my nerves kind of taking over, but T.J. made it very easy on me. I could see that having Derek Jeter as a role model truly has made an impact on who he is as a person. His approach to the game reminds you a lot of Derek Jeter and the success that he has come accustomed to lately will only transpire into a very successful pro career. I am definitely rooting for T.J. to be promoted next season to Double-A and hopefully soon find himself making his Major League debut with the Mets.When David Wright moves on from the game it would be great to see T.J., a native New Yorker take over the reigns as the man of the city, because his dedication and his way of approaching the game of baseball is truly the make up of a player worth having on any roster.
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I would like to thank Alex Kushel for granting me access to T.J. Rivera. I really appreciate his willingness to help me in any way. I want to thank T.J. for allowing me to interview him and for being very patient with me and for the great responses he gave. I look forward to following his career and rooting for him as he is promoted through the Mets Minor League system and makes his Major League Debut with the Mets. When that day arrives, the Mets will have a player that will bring excitement to the game and be a great role model and ambassador of the game.
Thoughts from Joe D.
Great job David and thanks T.J. I had the occasion this season to ask two different players I interviewed who they felt was the most exciting teammates they’ve seen with the Mets and both of them said Rivera without hesitation. “When he finally arrives to Citi Field’ Jack Leathersich told me, “Mets fans are going to love what they see.”
The fact that he leads the FSL in hits is notable because it is a notorious pitcher’s league so his numbers to me are all the more impressive. T.J. leads the team in runs scored and is second on the team with 23 doubles. I’m certain we’ll see him in Binghamton next season, and as one coach told me, “he lives for baseball.”