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Rivera Provides Leadership To Golden Panthers

By Harry Coleman

March 1, 2005
Copyright © 2005 SO FL SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Miami · For Florida International's Luis Rivera, the road to success in the United States was a bumpy one, much like the rocky infields where Rivera fielded ground balls in Puerto Rico.

Without knowing English, the shortstop came to the United States in hope of a getting better education and a chance to distinguish himself on the baseball diamond.

Entering his third year at FIU, Rivera has done both. Despite still not speaking English fluently, Rivera has become a leader for the Golden Panthers.

No matter what language he speaks, teammates have always looked at Rivera as a leader and one of the best defensive players on the team.

"It doesn't matter if he speaks Spanish or English, on the field we communicate well with each other," second baseman Dennis Diaz said of his three-year double play partner. "He commands the infield but not as a verbal leader, but by leading through example."

The example Diaz talks about is the great defensive skills of Rivera, who had a .963 fielding percentage last season and .968 as a freshman year.

"He's the middle of our defense and a very good defensive shortstop," coach Danny Price said. "I think he's one of the best shortstops we've had [at FIU]."

Rivera, a junior, knows that his defensive skills are his strength.

"My fielding is the best aspect of my game, and I have no weakness out there," he said. "I practiced every day in the rocky fields of Puerto Rico, so when I came here it made it much easier for me because the fields are so smooth."

Being a good fielder automatically makes him a leader.

"I control the infield, and if another player commits an error, I talk with them calmly to help them," Rivera said. "I've always had the ability to be the best in the infield and it's my job to help the rest of the players and teach them the game to play their best."

Rivera is hitting .244 for FIU (9-4), which plays Friday against Temple.

Before Rivera shined at FIU, he traveled a long road, which made it hard for a teenager with no family in town.

In Melbourne, Rivera attended a baseball military school at age 14. He often sat on long bus rides not knowing where his team would play next. With his family back in Puerto Rico, it was difficult for Rivera to adapt.

"I felt alone and homesick because my family was not here," he said. "I did not know the language, and being here all alone was really hard."

Rivera later attended Carvin for his final two years of high school. After his senior season, the Kansas City Royals selected Rivera in the 49th round. However, Rivera decided to sign a scholarship to play for FIU.

Once again, Rivera had to adapt to a new place and study a heavy load of classes in a language that he struggled.

English professor Alfred Soto recalls Rivera's first year at FIU.

"Luis' English was rudimentary at best at the time, but he was enthusiastic and curious," Soto said. "I knew that he was new to FIU and the baseball team and I thought, `Well, this guy has a lot of heart and he was not afraid to look like a fool in front of others.' He didn't care. For him, getting an education mattered more than pride."

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