Stepping away from his dad’s shadow, 20-year-old Mariano Rivera Jr. will come to New Hampshire in June to play for the Laconia Muskrats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
“It’s a great opportunity and place for him to come and hone his skills,” said Noah Crane, the Muskrats’ general manager. “He’s going to get a small taste of what minor-league life is all about. Taking bus trips, playing in front of big crowds, surrounded by talented players. To leave his school and come to our type of atmosphere is probably the best thing for Mariano.”
Rivera spent one semester at Quinnipiac University before transferring to Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., this year. The 6-foot sophomore right-hander has made seven starts this season and completed two games. Through Monday’s action, he was 1-3 with a 4.93 ERA. In 38-1/3 innings, he has allowed 40 hits, 21 earned runs and 13 walks. He has 25 strikeouts, and opponents are batting .263 against him.
“His stats at Iona don’t jump off the page or overwhelm you, but he’s still raw,” said Crane. “Remember, his dad was a late bloomer. Here in Laconia he’s going to get more innings to develop his game, which is the goal.”
In his 19-year career with the New York Yankees, Rivera Sr. established a reputation of being the best closer in Major League Baseball history as he amassed 652 saves. He was a 13-time all-star, five-time World Series champion and five-time winner of the American League’s Rolaids Relief Man Award.
Rivera Jr. is trying to carve his own path. Coming to Laconia, Crane believes, is a good route for the younger Rivera to follow.
“I’ve already had some conversations with Mariano, and he comes across as incredibly humble and down-to-earth,” said Crane, whose close friendship with Iona head coach Pat Carey is a major reason why Rivera is coming to the Granite State.
“I almost worked for Pat at Iona when he offered me an assistant coaching job,” Crane said. “Financially at the time, I couldn’t make it work, but we remained close friends. When my dad and I founded the Muskrats in 2009, Pat started sending some of his players to Laconia to develop over the summer.”
When Rivera arrived at Iona, Crane said, Carey told the young pitcher not to expect any favors. He would be treated the same as any other player, which reportedly pleased Rivera.
“Same thing here when he arrives,” said Crane. “Rivera will be treated just like any other player. He’ll also stay with a host family for two months. Our job here is to help develop Mariano into a better pitcher. We definitely don’t intend to use him as a marketing tool, although we’re aware our attendence will rise whenever he’s scheduled to pitch. But other than a scenerio where his father shows up and gets mobbed by fans, we’re going to do our best to keep everything low-key.”
Crane said one of Rivera’s Iona teammates, infielder Matt Byrne, also will play for Laconia, which should make the transition for Rivera a little easier.
The Muskrats, under fourth-year manager Matt Alison, currently an assistant coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University, will play the home half of their 42-game schedule at the Robbie Mills Sports Complex in Laconia. The team opens its season on June 6, when it hosts the Vermont Mountaineers in a 6:30 p.m. start.
Crane said there’s a chance Rivera might not play at all for the Muskrats.
“If he gets drafted early and signs a contract, he won’t play for us,” Crane said. “The draft opens June 5 and runs through June 7. I’m sure his dad will advise him what to do when that time comes.”