Like many baseball careers, Chris Rivera’s began early. Long before learning to read or mastering his times tables, Rivera was developing his swing in a rather unconventional fashion.
“When I first started playing baseball I was 3 or 4 years old,” the prep star from Fullerton, Calif., said. “I started swinging with a hockey stick and my dad was throwing me balls and he saw a natural swing in there.”
Sooner or later that hockey stick would be replaced with a bat, and it wasn’t long before Rivera’s father was finding other ways to promote the game for his son, this time by showing him old tapes of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente.
“I used to love watching him throw from the outfield and watching his swing,” Rivera said. “He played hard every at-bat, every time he ran the bases, every throw he made.”
It’s safe to say Rivera was hooked at a young age. His skills developed early and he began to play against older competition. In 2007, Rivera played on USA Baseball’s 14-and-under National Team as a 12-year-old, an experience that he says sparked his ability and made him play even harder.
Now a rising senior at El Dorado High (Placentia, Calif.), the 6-foot, 175-pound infielder is getting close looks from scouts. Despite struggling on offense during his junior year, scouts are still impressed by Rivera’s bat speed and raw ability, as well as his defense.
Matt Lucas, the interim head coach and former assistant at El Dorado, first saw Rivera play when he was in middle school. It was clear even then that he was an exceptional talent.
“He was one of those guys who stood out right away,” Lucas said. “Even as an eighth-grader he was head and shoulders above everybody else that he was playing with.”
Rivera has committed to Cal State Fullerton, but he hasn’t always wanted to play college ball in the Golden State. In fact, Rivera said he had dreams of playing at a different coastal baseball powerhouse.
“When I was younger I had always wanted to go to Miami,” he said. “I had always looked at them as being a really great school all around. Miami was always my number one.”
His mind changed when his family moved closer to Fullerton before Rivera’s freshman year. With the Cal State Fullerton campus so close to home, Rivera said that committing to the Titans was a “no brainer” as soon as they offered.
On His Way
Many believe that a year from now Rivera could be playing somewhere much farther from home. Already being touted as a potential early-round pick in 2013, the California product could find himself riding buses and playing in minor league stadiums if he chooses pro ball.
Whatever decision he ends up making, El Dorado former head coach Dave Moore believes he will excel.
“He’s mature beyond his years and he’s humble,” Moore said. “That’s always a challenge with star players, to keep them confident without letting them go overboard and Chris has never been overboard with that
“You match that with his skill level and he’s going to be just fine whether he goes college or signs.”
Not only are there questions surrounding what level Rivera will play at after high school, but it’s also uncertain where he’ll be on the field. He has received the most attention for his play at shortstop, but Rivera’s versatility has led him to appearances in the outfield, on the mound and even behind the plate.
“He’s got the tools to play any position on the field,” Moore said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up closing somewhere, whether it’s in college or beyond. I’ve seen him work in the outfield. He’s caught for us. The fact that he’s versatile and he’ll be able to move anywhere on the diamond is what makes him special.”
“My dad told me when I was younger I had to be versatile and play different positions just in case one position didn’t work out,” Rivera said. “My dad teaching me all of that kind of helped me in the future.”
Rivera is not the first El Dorado baseball player to receive national attention. Golden Hawks rosters in recent decades have included big league veterans Bret Boone, Phil Nevin and Brett Tomko. In this year’s draft the A’s selected El Dorado lefthander Kyle Twomey, who ultimately chose to attend Southern California instead of signing professionally.
In addition to individual successes, El Dorado has claimed the CIF Southern Section title four times since 1976, most recently in 2001.
Only time will tell if Rivera one day earns a spot among El Dorado’s all-time greats. Baseball tools aside, Moore and Lucas both spoke at length about Rivera’s unparalleled passion for the game. It’s a passion that they said not only makes Rivera a better player, but it also makes those around him better as well.
“His approach during practice is as if it’s the CIF championship or the World Series,” Moore said. “In the last three years that I coached at El Dorado, he made practices so easy because guys just feed off of his energy.
“The bottom line is that he’s got the work ethic to do it. Who’s going to be the guy to go out and put the extra time in? That’s going to be Chris.