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The Flip Side: Rene Rivera

Another baseball card mystery solved.

Rene Rivera came to the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2015 season in the big 11 player, three team deal that also involved the San Diego Padres and the Washington Nationals.

He was coming off a phenomenal season with the Friars, in which he posted 5.2 fWAR, hitting .252/.319/.432 with 11 HR over 329 plate appearances. However, his main calling card is his abilities behind the plate, particularly his propensity to frame pitches.

Unfortunately, Rivera would endure one of the worst seasons in recent memory as he struggled in every facet of the game and ultimately forced the Rays into inserting literally anyone else behind the plate who somewhat feasibly attempt to catch a ball behind the plate.

Overall, Rivera hit .178/.213/.275 with 5 HR over 319 plate appearances, registering -0.4 fWAR. Despite his lackluster play, Rivera was pretty sour with the Rays for diminishing his role with the team, saying that he wasn’t given enough of a chance to rebound. However, Rivera’s actions at the plate even brought on the ire of the usually soft spoken Rays Manager, Kevin Cash, who told the media that Rivera had a non-competitive at-bat during a crucial situation.

Rivera managed to stick with the Rays through Spring Training in 2016, but would receive his release prior to the season’s start.

Since then, Rivera has journeyed around the Majors, experiencing mixed results. Most recently, Rivera played in 9 games with the New York Mets during the 2019 season and signed a minor league deal with them this past offseason.

Now, onto the baseball card.

2015 Topps Update #US278

In the picture captured above, Rivera appears to be throwing out a batter running to first base. A player can be seen behind him, presumably the pitcher, thus leading to me believe that this was a groundball just in front of the pitcher’s mound that Rivera fielded and threw to first for the out.

Of interest, but not particularly helpful, note the bright finger nails on Rivera’s throwing hand. This was a common technique to help pitcher’s discern the signs given to them from their battery mates.

The Rays are clearly in their alternate uniforms and are in a stadium heavily clad in blue, and the shade of blue is leading me to believe that they are playing in Toronto.

During the 2015 season, Rivera caught a total of 107 games for the Rays; of those, seven were in Toronto. Now, we don’t get much detail on the pitcher in the background, but to me, it appears to be former Rays RHP Jake Odorizzi, who commonly pitched in the short forearm sleeves during his Rays tenure.

Odorizzi started three games in Toronto during the 2015 season and Rene Rivera only caught during two of those appearances, on April 13th and July 17th.

During these two games, there was only one play in which the catcher fielded a ball and proceeded to throw out the runner at first base and that came during the bottom of the 8th inning on April 13th when Blue Jay infielder Devon Travis chopped a ball right in front of the plate that Rene Rivera somewhat clumsily fielded and threw to first for the out.

That is the play that is captured on the baseball card.