After relocating to the United States in 2001 from his native home of Puerto Rico, then-17-year-old Rene Rivera barely knew a lick of English. What he did know was his career goal: to play 10 seasons in the major leagues.
Nearly 12 years later, Rivera is only a quarter of the way there and sits one step away with the Triple-A Tucson Padres. While it wasn't the career the catcher envisioned, the 29-year-old hasn't abandoned his lofty dream.
"I definitely want to go back to the big leagues," Rivera said. "I want to get my time. My goal is to get 10 years in the big leagues, I got 2 1/2 years."
With just over three months remaining until Rivera celebrates his 30th birthday, his dream grows more and more unlikely, barring a Jamie Moyer-like revival. Yet, if the small sample size of this season means anything, Rivera's career is still far from its twilight.
He might be the second-oldest player on the team, but Rivera led the Padres with a .429 batting average and a 1.092 on-base plus slugging, heading into Friday's game.
Considering he hit just .193 during his time in the majors and struggled with a .226 average at Triple-A Rochester last season, Rivera might have his stroke figured out.
Growing older might have its advantages.
"I feel better now than when I was young," Rivera said. "Sometimes when you're young, you have too much energy and you make a lot of mistakes. Now you get more experience, more better when you get older and older. You'll do the same thing, but you'll step back and do it right."
Padres hitting coach Tom Tornincasa said Rivera improved the mechanics of his swing over the winter and is hitting better now, even if he's only had 28 at-bats to show it off.
"At least it's a good start," Tornincasa said with a grin.
"The experience never hurts; it helps him. Plus, some of the things he's been through in the past and what he's doing now, he's figuring things out himself, too."
Through all the ups and downs of a fringe MLB career, the baseball field has always been a sanctuary for the far-from-home Puerto Rican, no matter if he's playing with the Seattle Mariners, the Minnesota Twins or the Tucson Padres. That doesn't mean Rivera lacks the desire to once again hear the magical news from his manager.
"It'd be great, man, a great experience," Rivera said. "Every time I get called up, I feel like it's the first time for me. That's what I've dreamt about all my life - to be in the big leagues."
• What: Tucson Padres at Fresno
• When: 7:05 p.m.
• Radio: 1290-AM
Tucson 12, Salt Lake 4
• Highlight: With two runners on in the first inning, Padres third baseman Jonathan Galvez lined a single to left field to score the game's opening run. The hit was not only the start of a great night for Galvez (2 for 4 with 3 RBIs), but it also set the pace for Tucson (6-9) in a game it led from the start. The Bees (10-6) trailed 5-2 in the sixth, but back-to-back errors led to a four-run inning for the Padres. Left fielder Travis Buck sealed it with a three-run homer in the eighth.
• Big number: 3. After losing three in a row at Kino Stadium, the Padres won three straight against Salt Lake. The win streak is Tucson's longest of the season and gives it momentum entering a four-game series at Fresno.
• Tonight's starters: RHP Chris Heston (2-0, 7.80 ERA), Fresno, vs. RHP Keyvius Sampson (0-0, 8.53 ERA), Tucson