Player of the Year: Jorge Rivera (OHS, Sr.)
All-County team: St. Cloud: Jacob Bourekas, Chase Goerner, Nicky Matos. Osceola: Manuel Lopez, Marlon Sanchez, Frankie Santaniello, Keniel Carrion, Andrew Fernandez. Harmony: Ian Hiraldo, Jackson Sibbitt. Liberty: Adrian Palma. Celebration: Carlos Meneses, Luis Pedrique, Bradon Rivera. Tohopekaliga: Jonantoni Suarez.
In the past few seasons, Osceola High’s baseball team’s success has been based on the sum of its parts.
Without one huge blue-chip bat or arm to build around, Coach Scott Birchler asks all of his players to carry an equal piece of the load, whether it be on the mound or the basepaths, or at the plate — or behind it.
Catcher Jorge Rivera, one of a big handful of Kowboys seniors this year, got the message way before the season started.
In three years, Osceola’s backstop went from a serviceable varsity starter to a key contributor to, well, the big bat in the lineup.
Rivera, set up for a big year by stepping up his offseason work beginning this time last year, batted .446 and led the club in hits and doubles.
“I did a lot of work in the cage in the summer and fall, and it showed,” Rivera said. “I thought a big year like I had could happen, I didn’t expect it, but it did.”
His mix of timely offense and defense at catcher while working with a pitching staff that didn’t have a lot of innings in big, tough spots at the start of the year were what propelled him to this year’s honor as Osceola News-Gazette Baseball Player of the Year.
Over the course of the season, he moved from the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup to the cleanup spot and in the end the No. 3 to get more at-bats in big spots, Coach Scott Birchler said.
“It was nothing fancy, just consistent during the year,” the coach said. “All year long he just kept coming up big, was always grinding, never had the slumps that all guys seem to get.”
Rivera spent four years in the Kowboys program, something he said he’s grateful for.
“This year was amazing. I couldn’t have done it without Coach Bircher, or Coach (Jose) Figueroa or Coach (Ronnie) Weismore,” he said.
Baseball players often focus (too much) on their game at the plate, but catching and the responsibilities that go with it is something Rivera said he’s taken pride in. His “pop time” (the time from when a pitch hits a catchers glove to when it strikes the glove of the middle infielder at second base) is down below two seconds, he said.
“Catching is what I like, it’s what I’m good at,” he said. “I like throwing out base runners.
One would think that would make college coaches take notice, but Rivera does not have any offers yet, with the clock ticking, even though baseball’s the only major sport played without a clock.
“I’m going to showcase camps this summer,” he said. “It’s been great playing at Osceola, but a piece of me has accepted that there might not be baseball for me after this summer.”