A day of interviewing players can become a waiting game with the hope that the player you request is willing to take time out of their busy day to talk to you. During our last visit, we had requested to talk to Storm pitcher Ryan Butler but he was pitching that day and was unavailable for a pre-game interview. As we glanced through our program, a name almost jumped off the page; it was River Stevens. He was batting .330 at the time, so we decided to request him. Tyler set it up, and River walked into the Storm dugout to talk about his baseball career.
“I was real young and I was playing catch with my dad” who we would learn more about later in the interview, “and we were throwing the ball back and forth across the street and I threw it over his head and it hit his rear view mirror on the nice little car he had and he got upset at me. I must have been 5 or 6 at the time.” This was River’s first memory of the game and a special memory he had of his father.
As a kid, River played on travel teams that his dad coached before attending Mission Hills High School where he batted well over .300 while keeping an eye on his favorite player, Chase Utley, in Philadelphia. “I tried to copy his swing and I still do and I still love watching him play.” He was also a fan of Lance Berkman and his “calm and relaxed” demeanor on the field as well as “loving his swing from both sides of the plate.”
After playing his first season at Palomar College, which was cut short due to injuries, River transferred to Hancock College for his sophomore season where he led all Jr. College players in California with a batting average of .449. “It was a fun time for me to play. It was the first time living on my own, as a 19 year old, getting away from everybody.” The Padres must have liked what they saw, because they drafted River in the 9th round of the 2012 Draft, which happened to fall on his father’s birthday! What a fantastic present for a man who loved his son and coached him as a young boy.
River reported to A Eugene where he hit .241 in his first season of pro-ball. In 2013, he missed the season after having surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. For 2014, he split his time between A Eugene, A- Fort Wayne and A+ Lake Elsinore batting .246 while showing the ability to play 2B, SS and 3B.
We asked River what he thought of Spring Training experience was like. “I got there really early, probably February and had my buddy, Jeremy Baltz, come out early and we would get some early work in.” He told us that he was able to talk to Padres Hitting Coach Mark Kotsay and get some tips as well as “speak to former Padres Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin,” who were willing to help young players and give them advice on “how to play the game.”
For this season, River is working “on his infield, trying to slow it up.” He tends to want to speed up the game too much, so he is focused on “keeping it slow” and is looking forward to playing for new Storm Manager, Michael Collins. He has known “Tubs, we call him Tubs,” since 2012 and considers him a great guy. “He’s (Michael Collins) is real laid back and fun. He knows the game so well and really knows his stuff and I consider him a player’s manager.”
The El Paso Manager (now the Padres’ Skipper), Pat Murphy, calls him “Cat” Stevens and with good reason – River loves music. He started playing drums when he was young because he “just wanted to bang on something.” He is a “self-taught” musician who enjoys playing piano and guitar. He had to leave his guitar at his home in Flagstaff, but he hoped to get it soon.
As we wrapped the interview up, we talked about his dad and how he was. We didn’t realize he had passed away shortly after his pro baseball career got started but River explained to us he was “with me every game.” He spoke to us about “a crazy dream last November that I was upset with him because you’re never at my game and all the other dads were there. I’ll never forget it, it was the clearest dream I have ever had. He looked at me and pointed at my heart and said I am at every single one.” At this point of the interview, we had to hold back tears after hearing about this dream.
As the interview concluded, River chatted with us some more and then proceeded to show us a tattoo he had of his father on his chest. River made sure that his dad would always be there with him at every game and after meeting River, we know that his dad is. Thank you River Stevens for talking to us and you have fans here at Padres360.