The New York Mets signed infielder Jorge Rivero in 2011 as an international free agent, and then sent him to play in the Dominican Summer League before moving him on to the Gulf Coast Mets (Rookie) to end the season.
Rivero, who was born in La Habana, Cuba and left his native land at the age of twenty looking for a better opportunity and to follow his dream of one day playing professional baseball.
He played baseball in Cuba for 13 years before he decided it was time to leave. Rivero shares how his family felt about him leaving, “My mother knew when I left, but my father didn’t know, because he wouldn’t have let me leave. It was really hard for the both of them.”
After only 37 games in the Dominican Summer League, he was sent to play in Florida and I asked him if there was a difference between playing in the Dominican Republic compared to playing in the states for the first time.
“It was the most difficult time of my career, and the biggest change. In the Dominican Republic they have the best players, some that come from the United States, and others that are used to playing at a high level. But in the Gulf Coast league, there are Latinos and other players, but they are just not used to playing with the same level of talent.”
In his first year of pro ball, between both teams, he batted, .265/.347/.386, with 26 runs, nine doubles, seven triples, a home run, 24 RBI, 10 stolen bases, 25 walks, in 246 plate appearances.
In 2012, he was sent to play with Kingsport (Rookie) and Brooklyn (A-) and combined he batted .282/.318/.418, with 19 runs, 10 doubles, four triples, two home runs, 22 RBI, 11 walks, in 193 plate appearances. He initially started the year with Brooklyn, but was quickly sent to Kingsport. “I was only given the chance to play two games in Brooklyn, but in Kingsport, I was given more opportunity to play,” says the infield prospect.
After putting up good numbers in Kingsport, where he batted .313/.340/.465, he returned to Brooklyn in late August and was on hand to help the team in the playoffs. The Cyclones would not advance past the first round as they would drop two out of the three games.
“It was a nice experience to play in the playoffs with Brooklyn, and even though I didn’t get to play a lot, I was able to help in the first game victory.”
In 2013, he remained in Brooklyn until the early part of July and in 15 games he batted, .339/.364/.403, with four doubles and four RBI, in 67 plate appearances. He appreciated the time he spent in Brooklyn and the fans that rooted for the team, “They are the most demanding fans but they are also the ones that supported the team the most. They even followed us around to different stadiums to root us on,” says Rivero.
After his brief time in Brooklyn, he was promoted to Savannah (A) and in 33 games, he batted .279/.340/.333, with 18 runs, five doubles, one triple, 10 RBI and 11 walks in 142 plate appearances.
Rivero felt better in Savannah, because he finally reached a place where he could get a chance to actually help the team, and he did just that by contributing in a history making season, “This year I batted better and felt more confidence in my game.”
He continues, “It was very nice to be on a team that had accomplished so much and won their division. I was able to play with some of the ball players that I played with when I first came to the United States. I felt very good because our manager Luis Rojas, gave me an opportunity to play, and I was able to help as much as I could while healthy and the team was able to win the championship.”
Rivero missed out on playing in any playoff games because of an injury he sustained, “I couldn’t play in the playoffs because I hurt my wrist and couldn’t participate, but now I feel better and I’ve completed my rehab and preparing for spring training.”
He knows that hard work pays off but he also knows how important it is to have good people on his side helping him along the way, “In Cuba, Oscar Valdez taught me the ABC’s of baseball, how to hit and throw correctly and how to play the game the right way. Rafael Landestoy taught me how to be a professional ballplayer; Jose Leger and Yunir Garcia helped me a lot in the United States with adapting to life here and playing professional baseball.”
The advice and encouragement he received while playing in pro ball, has given him the discipline that is needed to sustain long summers of baseball and the preparations during the winter. Right now, he is focused on being ready for 2014, “I am training Monday through Friday in the batting cages, running, and doing a special workout with a friend, who is a football player, by preparing my body with strength training.”
Being away from home and not having your family around can take a toll especially if you are a young player in a foreign country and just trying to make it, “It’s been five years and even though it was a very hard decision, you make the sacrifices to better yourself,” adds the Cuban native.
In 2007, he competed in the Pan Am games in Rio de Janeiro for Cuba and they won the championship. When he returned home, he gave his parents his jersey as a token of appreciation for all the sacrifices that they made to put him on the team. Then his parents did something that touched him, “Recently, my parents sent the jersey back to me here in the states; they knew how proud I was of the jersey and how sentimental it is to me. I was very emotional to receive it back from my parents,” says the proud son.
Having the opportunity to share his story, I have to say is an honor. Rivero has traveled many miles to reach his goals and dreams, and the path that he has taken has led him to meeting the right people and having the opportunity to play professional baseball. The future is bright for this young prospect and as he continues to develop, his journey will soon reach what he has been preparing for, the big leagues.
Rivero asked us if it would be okay to include a personal message from him for all those that have supported him within the Hispanic and American communities:
It doesn’t matter if the player is in the minors or the majors, every player deserves to be respected by the public, because that person is playing and sacrificing himself daily to improve and to provide the fans with great games. Some people don’t realize that we wake up every morning thinking about how we can improve and better ourselves to make it to the major leagues. It is not only important just to be a baseball fanatic but to also understand everything that a player goes through just to have the opportunity to be there.
I would like to send greetings to my people in Cuba, all my Latino fans, to the exceptional fans that follow the NY Mets, and my friends here in Miami; I cant mention all their names, just too many. I want them all to know that I always think about them when I step onto the field to play. Thank you very much.
Thank you David, I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and I wont forget who did my first interview in the United States.
It was my pleasure, Jorge…
This interview was initially conducted in Spanish and I translated into English for our readers to enjoy. All photos are courtesy of Jorge Rivero.