Published April 21, 2014, in The Journal News/LoHud.com
He’s not his father.
That’s the first distinction that needs to be made when talking about Mariano Rivera Jr., the eldest son of Yankee great Mariano Rivera.
Rivera Jr. is his own person and player, with his own successes and failures, all of which are separate from the achievements of his father, considered by many to be the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball.
“I want to be known for my abilities, my talents, and not just because of who my father is,” Rivera Jr. said. “I’ve learned to step away from that awhile back. … I want to work for what I have.”
That’s what Rivera Jr. has been doing at Iona, where he’s earned a spot as one of the Gaels’ weekend starters despite only being a sophomore.
At Iona, Rivera Jr., an Iona Prep graduate, has worked on building his own legacy, playing home games at Flowers Park in New Rochelle, 14 miles north of the old Yankee Stadium, where his father made a name for himself.
“There is no sense of entitlement with this kid,” Iona head coach Pat Carey said. “Whatever he gets, he knows he has to earn.”
On April 12, Rivera Jr. got the start at home against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference foe Quinnipiac, where Rivera Jr. was enrolled for a semester before transferring home to Iona in the winter of 2013.
Rivera pitched well, giving up a run in the first and then buckling down to hold the Bobcats scoreless for five. The Gaels couldn’t give Rivera Jr. run support, though, and Iona ended up losing in eight innings (game two of weekend doubleheaders goes seven innings).
It’s been that type of season for Rivera Jr., who is 1-4 in eight starts with a 4.67 ERA and a .270 opponent’s batting average. He’s had his ups (throwing a two-hitter in a 5-0 win against visiting Fairfield on March 22) and downs (allowing 10 earned runs in four innings in a 16-4 loss at William & Mary) in his first full season as a starter for the Gaels (6-22).
During the loss to Quinnipiac, Rivera Sr. stands stoically, hands folded in front or behind him, splitting time between behind the backstop and down the left-field line. He’s no different from any other parent in attendance watching their son play, besides the consistent stream of fans looking for photos and autographs and the fact he likely has five more World Series rings than any other onlooker.
After the game, Rivera Sr. cautiously talks about his son. He says he’s happy to be able to watch his games — he’s attended every home game Rivera Jr. has pitched in this season — and has enjoyed sharing in the experience with his son during his first season out of MLB since 1995.
While Rivera Jr. said he’s happy that his family has the opportunity to watch him play, it’s a nonfactor. In fact, despite living at home in Harrison with his parents, he said he only occasionally talks about his pitching performances with his dad.
“Being so close to home doesn’t impact me in a negative or positive way,” Rivera Jr. said. “I have to show up, play and give everything I have day in and day out. It doesn’t matter if I’m home, 300 miles away, or wherever.”
This summer Rivera Jr. will get a chance to prove himself on another stage after nabbing a spot on the Laconia Muskrats, one of 12 teams in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. According to Carey, the NECBL is one of the best collegiate summer baseball leagues in the country behind the well-known Cape Cod Baseball League.
Iona has sent a few players every summer to Lebanon, N.H., to play for the Muskrats due to Carey’s relationship with general manager Noah Crane, but Rivera Jr. isn’t looking for any type of handout because of the performances of other Gaels.
“Just because a few of my teammates have played over there doesn’t mean I’m anything special or anything different,” Rivera Jr. said. “I want to work for what I have.”
Playing the NECBL will also provide another opportunity for Rivera Jr. to continue to blaze his own path.
“I feel like I’m going to make a name for myself being up there,” Rivera Jr. said. “It has nothing to do with my father. I feel like this is a step towards the direction of me being my own player, being my own person.”
For those that know him, being a great baseball player has always been what it’s about for Rivera Jr.
“No matter what his father was, when he pitches it has nothing to do with (Rivera Sr.),” Carey said. “He does it himself. … This has nothing to do with his father. This is about him and his inner drive. He wants to be a baseball player.”