BRADENTON, Fla. — If you picture in your head the archetypal image of a Major League Baseball closer, you’ll probably come up something like the following.
You’re thinking of a tall, right-handed pitcher with a powerful fastball, a wipeout breaking pitch and a surly demeanor. He’s stone-faced on the mound and unapproachable to the point of intimidation.
Pirates closer Felipe Rivero checks maybe one of those boxes. He’s got a powerful fastball, alright. Other than that, he just doesn’t fit the prototype. But that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.
The first part is that he throws from the wrong side of the rubber. Of the top 30 pitchers in saves in 2016, only five — Rivero, Kyle Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Sean Doolittle and Brad Hand — are southpaws, and that makes Rivero unique in itself.
Left-handers are known for quirky personality traits, so maybe that’s why the irreverent Rivero seems more intent on having fun than intimidating hitters. Instead of a stoic approach, you’re much more likely to find Rivero smiling on the mound or goofing around off it.
Best Performance by a Closer in Dance Video. Felipe Rivero ("Hips Don't Lie"). 🎼 pic.twitter.com/vOw508HhDb
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) December 18, 2017
“He’s a Little League kid in a man’s body right now,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said. “He just loves playing and competing.”
“Ha ha, yeah that’s pretty accurate,” responded Rivero. “The thing is that I go out and just try to have fun like I used to do when I was a little kid. It hasn’t changed at all. I just go out and like to have fun with my friends.”
Rivero said that he feels many closers bring on a false persona for intimidation factor and in that regard, he feels his work stands on its own.
“I’ve seen some of the closers over the years and I know that they’re fun outside of the actual game, and inside, they’re trying to intimidate the hitters,” Rivero said. “That’s not my case, because they already know what I’m capable of. For me, being like, that’s not me. So there’s no way you’re going to see me like that. They’ll be like, ‘That guy’s not like that.’ So, I’m just trying to have fun on this mound every time I can and just enjoy the game.”
Rivero has extended his positivity beyond the playing field, as well. Since his role has increased with the Pirates, he’s become more active on social media and has preached a message of positivity in what can be a very negative place.
“Social media is just to have fun or at least let the people know that you’re having fun outside of baseball,” Rivero said. “Because you can’t Tweet or post something during the game, so that way you can do it after. So, there’s some days that I won’t post anything if we lose or something like that. But if I’m having fun, I want people to know. I’m a fun guy.”