In sort of a random story, the Mariners have selected two players from Bethune Cookman College so…
Mumba Rivera: Ditches Hoops for the Diamond
It was that dedication to hoops that brought him to Marshalltown Community College in Iowa, where he sat on the bench redshirting as a freshman. And it was there, in the plains of Iowa, that fate took over.
One day, out of the blue, Rivera mentioned to one of his basketball teammates that he could throw a baseball 90 mph. When the word spread, and nobody believed the affable freshman, Rivera took matters into his own hands.
"We all put our gloves on and the baseball coach was watching me pitch and I started throwing," said Rivera. "The guy said, ‘Yeah, that was 90,' and he offered to have me play for the baseball team."
Rivera, who hadn't played baseball in four years, faired so well despite his inexperience that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted him after that freshman year. He decided to pass up the temptation to sign, electing to improve in the college ranks with the hope that he'd be drafted again.
Rivera transferred to Bethune-Cookman College in Florida and, while still raw, he became the go-to-guy on the front end of the rotation. As a senior in 2004, he went 7-7 with a 4.90 ERA and led all pitchers on the staff with 79 innings of work. A look beyond the numbers, at the raw stuff and makeup Rivera showed on the mound, and it's easier to see why the Mariners took a chance on the right-hander in the 21st round.
"He's going to be one that's really going to benefit from playing baseball full time," said Mervyl Melendez, his coach at Bethune-Cookman, after day two of the MLB draft on June 8. "He throws in the low 90s and can really bring it, but he's going to have to have better command at the next level, which is something that is fixable. When he's on he's on. He's got a good breaking ball when it's working and his delivery is effortless.
"He's going to really blossom at the pro level because everything comes so natural to him."
Coach Melendez did well at forecasting the future, as his predictions from early last month appear to be coming true. Rivera reported to SS-A Everett for his first professional stop, and a month into the season he is third on the club with a 2.70 ERA while pitching in a middle relief role.
The early success doesn't come as a surprise to Rivera.
"I knew I was capable of coming in and making a difference right away," he said. "I just need to work on my mechanics a little bit and focus on every pitch when I'm in the game, which I didn't really do in college.
"I'm still learning. The coaches tell me to keep the ball low and take my time. My main problem is that sometimes I get in the game and I need to keep my intensity at the level that it is supposed to be. If I locate pitches and keep the ball low, I'll be successful."
Rivera says he ideally prefer to be a starter, but he feels his current role has suited him just fine.
"It's good because it gets me focused and ready and it gets my intensity going," he said.
Moving up from the college ranks to the pros, Rivera finds himself needing to make adjustments on the mound. He can't get away with relying strictly on his fastball like he often did in college, as the hitters are better in the Northwest League than at any other level the righty has pitched at before.
Rivera's best pitch is his four-seam fastball, which he is locating better now than he had in college, while his curveball is his number two pitch. He goes with a changeup, a pitch he began to develop as a senior at Bethune Cookman, as his third option on the mound,
Three years after the infamous day in Iowa, Mumba Rivera has made the improbable journey to professional baseball. With that accomplishment now behind him, the next task becomes improving on a daily basis and working towards moving up through the Mariners minor league farm system.
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