After 2015, hopes were very high.
The Mets had just gone to the World Series. The pitching staff which led them there were young and under team control for many years to come.
So if I told you that the Mets would be playing in the 2016 Wildcard game, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
What might have surprised you is being told that our best scoring chance that game came with TJ Rivera standing at second base and Jay Bruce at the plate.
Neither of those players were in the plans to begin the 2016 season. A lot of things didn’t go according to plan in 2016.
Neil Walker was brought in to replace Daniel Murphy, who signed with the Washington Nationals. Walker had to undergo a lumbar microdiscectomy, following a classic Mets medical staff gaffe.
Spinal stenosis essentially ended David Wright’s career in 2016. He was replaced by José Reyes, the former Met who the Colorado Rockies paid 39 million dollars not to play for them.
Matt Harvey was no longer immortal, and was eventually shut down for the year. Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz suffered through their own injuries and were shut down for the season as well.
Jay Bruce was acquired in a deadline deal for infielder Dilson Herrera. Ironically, Herrera was cited as a reason the Mets could afford to let Daniel Murphy go.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
The Mets insanely called up Eric Campbell and Danny Muno about fifty times in 2015 and 2016. Was there really nobody else?
Mackey Sasser, a former catcher for the Mets, became the head coach at Wallace Community College, a small school in Alabama. One of his players was TJ Rivera, a kid from the Bronx who could hit. He hit so well; in fact, that Sasser told a Met scout about him.
That scout listened, and the Mets signed Rivera as a free agent in 2011. Did we mention that Rivera could hit?
In A+ ball he hit .304.
In AA ball he hit .349.
In AAA ball he hit .335.
Yet, the undrafted Rivera always seemed to get overlooked. There were other players in the Mets system who they had drafted and invested in.
In 2016, he made it impossible for the Mets to ignore him any longer. He hit .349 and won the Pacific Coast League batting title, finally earning a call-up to the major leagues.
Rivera hit .333 for the Mets in 2016, and two months after his call-up, his name was in the starting lineup in the Wildcard game.
Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner traded zeroes back and forth. Rivera led off the bottom of the fifth with a double and Citi Field was rocking. Then Jay Bruce struck out swinging. Rivera was erased on a fielders choice, and the threat was neutralized.
Let’s fast forward to 2017, shall we?
Rivera made the opening day roster for the first time. He hit .290 over 73 games before he experienced elbow discomfort. The prognosis was a torn Ulner Collateral Ligament. Tommy. John.
Unfortunately, Rivera never recovered. He logged 28 minor league at bats in 2018, before being shut down again.
This spring, the elbow still proved to be an obstacle for Rivera. He was unable to resume baseball activity, and was released by the Mets last week.
As sports fans, we live for these types of stories. Local kid makes good. Undrafted player defies all odds. His story can’t end like this, can it?
Sadly, it looks like the book on TJ Rivera in a Mets jersey is closed. I do; however, look forward to reading another chapter.
We know that Rivera can hit. We also know that he can fight. He has willpower. I’m confident that we will hear his name again.
Any of us would love to tell our grandkids that we hit a double off Madison Bumgarmer in a playoff game. I know that TJ Rivera isn’t satisfied with that. He wants to rack up some more stories before it’s all said and done.
Best of luck, TJ.