By Bradley Schlegel

News Staff

The first time Tommy Rivas swung at a curveball with less than two strikes, he ran laps. Now, Rivas' offensive approach is encouraged.

The player relies heavily on his own instincts, and his coach rarely curtails his confidence at bat.

"Tommy proved he can hit a curveball hard," Exeter American Legion manager Ernie Weller said. "Which I hated."

Rivas' ability has overwhelmed his defiance. And Weller has acquiesced, so long as the Blue Jays keep winning.

The player and coach insist this is the year Exeter will advance past the Berks playoffs. At 8-3 in the difficult Red Division, which includes Boyertown, Shillington and West Lawn, Exeter is poised to make a run at the league title and earn a berth in the Region Two Tournament.

The Blue Jays, who finished third in the playoffs each of the last three years, are poised for a happier ending in 2006. With a solid pitching staff - which Weller called the deepest in the league - and Rivas, they don't expect to falter down the stretch.

Losing that way is "heartbreaking," Rivas said. "This year is going to be different. All we want to do win the championship. It's all I can think about."

Rivas has been the Blue Jays' best player for most of the last four seasons. As of June 19, his .480 batting average leads the team. He covers plenty of ground in center field, and he can also pitch. Weller calls Rivas a five-tool player and the best in the league.

"He can do it all," the manager said. "He's impressive to watch and fun to coach. For this level, he's a complete player."

Rivas strengthened his manager's case by advancing in the Legion's All-Star tryouts. He was selected by professional scouts as one of the top players in Region Two last Friday, June 23. That night, he helped lead Exeter to an 11-3 win over Oley. His bunt single sparked a three-run rally in the first inning, and he smacked a double in the fourth.

Last year, against Fleetwood, the center fielder beat the shortstop and second baseman to the base on a throw from the catcher. Rivas caught the ball and tug out the runner. This year, he tug out a runner at third caught in a rundown.

"That's just Tommy," Weller said. "You don't have to tell him things."

Rivas wasn't sure where he'd be playing this summer after enrolling at Kutztown University last fall. But he took a red shirt during his freshman season and didn't play.

After several conversations between Weller and Golden Bears head coach Chris Blum, Rivas' returned to the Blue Jays for a fourth season. The player welcomed the decision.

"I feel like I fell behind by not playing [in the spring]," Rivas said. "I needed to get as many swings as possible."

Rivas is getting plenty of at-bats with the Blue Jays as well as his second season with the Berkshire Red Sox. But he is focused on leading Exeter to the regionals, to be hosted by West Lawn in late July.

"Tommy is so unselfish," Weller said. "That filters to the rest of the team."

Contact reporter Bradley Schlegel at 610-367-6041, ext. 240 or

bschlegel@berksmontnews.com.

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