NEW YORK -- Looking back on that day at Lehman High School in the Bronx, T.J. Rivera was nervous. Perhaps it was Rivera's old fear of public speaking rippling back to the surface. Perhaps it was the simple memory that when he was that age, he was "too cool for
NEW YORK -- Looking back on that day at Lehman High School in the Bronx, T.J. Rivera was nervous. Perhaps it was Rivera's old fear of public speaking rippling back to the surface. Perhaps it was the simple memory that when he was that age, he was "too cool for school." Whatever the reason, the nerves vanished as soon as Rivera grabbed a microphone and realized how enthralled the students were that he, a Major League Baseball player, was taking time out of his day to share his story.
This may seem like a small thing, but for Rivera, it was everything. Since completing his journey from undrafted free agent to big leaguer in 2016, Rivera has become one of the Mets players most committed to community service.
There was the visit to his old high school, a stone's throw from Citi Field. There was the day last November, when Rivera delivered turkeys and full Thanksgiving meals to Mets fans in Corona, Queens. There was the summer afternoon he stepped in for teammate Wilmer Flores, who was unable to fulfill one of his own charitable commitments due to injury. There was the time last spring, when Rivera helped put on a clinic for Special Olympics athletes in Florida.
"I've always just wanted to give back to the best of my ability," Rivera said. "There's a lot of people who are less fortunate that don't have opportunities like others do, and especially in the cities and certain areas of the world. It's sad to me. I want to be able to give back the best that I can, whether it just be going to one of these events that the Mets put together, clinics, anything like that. To see a little kid smiling because they look up to you -- it's weird to me still that you can put a smile on a kid's face just by showing up to a hospital or to a school, or to their front door and giving them food. They look up to you."
For his efforts, Rivera was honored recently as the Mets' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which typically goes to more established players with charitable foundations of their own. Rivera's father, who grew up in Puerto Rico idolizing Clemente, was "over the moon."
"That's probably one of my favorite accomplishments," Rivera said of his nomination for an award that ultimately went to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "I'm looking at the list and I'm like, 'Wow.' Just being a nominee is a blessing. A lot of the guys have been in the league forever and they have their foundations and they're doing so much for the community. The names that were out there were crazy. These guys were All-Stars, and then they take time out of their day and money out of their pocket to help others. I felt honored just to be mentioned."
This offseason, Rivera won't be attending as many community events as usual as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery in Alabama. He and his wife, Ashton, are expecting their first child in early December, preventing Rivera from flying to New York for the Mets' various holiday initiatives.
But that has not stopped Rivera, who is poking around his offseason home for ways to help, including donating gift cards to a local charity.
"People that are less fortunate, I've always wanted to give back to them," Rivera said. "It's just really special when you get to put a smile on someone's face."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.