From Little League teammates to Cubs teammates: Everything has come full circle for Alfonso Rivas and Javier Assad
The feelings of disappointment quickly turned into optimism and excitement for Javier Assad.
Assad was a preteen and playing for his neighborhood team, the Guaycura Little League team in Tijuana and they had just lost to the Tijuana Municipal team. The Tijuana Municipal team liked what they saw out of Assad, a two-way player known for his bat. So, the Tijuana Municipal team, which was allowed to add players to their roster for the regional tournament, picked up Assad.
“We gave our best, but they beat us because they had a great team,” Assad said. “They had added me as a reinforcement, and I really liked it because I was able to help them.”
The team Assad joined was competing for a regional title in San Luis Río Colorado, a city a few hours away from Tijuana that sits on the border with Arizona. Assad was joining a team with a left-handed two-way player that was one of the top players for the age group in Tijuana — a kid named Alfonso Rivas.
“He was always one of the Caballos of the team,” Assad said of Rivas. (The term caballo literally translates to “horse” and in this case was meant as a compliment — Rivas was a stud player.) “I remember he hit and pitched really well. He was always in the All-Star games, he always pitched, he was always hitting. He was a great player as a kid. He’s always been a good player.”
Assad was no slouch, either.
“He was an infielder and pitched a bit, but he was known more for his hitting,” Rivas said of Assad.
The pair would square off or team up in fields across Tijuana and northwest Mexico, growing a friendship as kids. As they got older, they went their separate ways — Assad began prepping for a career in baseball in Mexico, and Rivas went Stateside to pursue an education and play baseball.
In their own ways, they reached their goals — Assad signed with the Cubs as an international free agent in 2015 and Rivas was drafted by the Oakland A’s in 2018.
“We had our own paths,” Rivas said. “There wasn’t too much communication, but there was always the friendship, and it was never lost.”
That was never more true than in January of 2020. That’s when the Cubs traded Tony Kemp to Oakland for Rivas. After the initial reaction of the news settled in, Rivas remembered he knew someone in the organization — Assad.
Assad was excited to see his childhood friend in the same organization, so he reached out to Rivas on Instagram, sending him a direct message and welcoming him to the Cubs.
“Having someone that I have known for many years, it gives you a little comfort that it makes you feel comfortable faster,” Rivas said. “You’re not struggling to make friends or who to eat with. I always can go there to Assad’s locker and tell a story or tell a joke or whatever, laugh or whatever, because that confidence has been there for many years.”
Rivas made his big-league debut in 2021 and has spent most of this season in the majors with the Cubs. But he also spent part of the summer in Triple-A when his childhood friend Assad was there, too.
“It gave you more confidence,” Assad said of having Rivas in Des Moines with him. “We chatted, remembering old times when we were little, times as friends, playing in Mexico and elsewhere. Super good to have a friend as a kid there on the team.”
On August 23, Assad was called up for a doubleheader against the Cardinals and made his MLB debut, pitching 4+ innings of shutout ball against a potent Cardinals lineup. Just four days later, Rivas was recalled and the pair were reunited on a big-league team.
“The other day, we were talking about a time we were playing together as kids, and I said, ‘And look where we’re at now. We’re on a professional team together, here,’” Assad said. “It was something beautiful and a beautiful experience. We talk a lot. We go out to eat together. It’s something incredible and I like having a long-term friendship here and being able to spend time here as big leaguers.”
It was a pinch-me moment for the pair. The odds are stacked for any preteen to reach the majors, let alone two from the same Little League team. That’s why it was special for the pair to look around and soak in the moment. Never did they think they’d both be where they are now.
“Honestly, no,” Rivas said with a laugh. “Not in the big leagues, let alone on the same team. It’s been a sick trajectory.”
It’s an arc that’s taken them from the José Silva Field and Campo Andrés Berumen where they played as kids to historic Wrigley Field and other MLB parks.
“Honestly, it’s something surprising and incredible,” Assad said. “As kids, I never imagined being with him in a place like Chicago together. It’s an incredible and beautiful experience.”