There are typically two routes to the Major Leagues in baseball — through high school or college. For Seattle Mariner Fred Rivera ’90 (History), it was college.
However, the former right-handed pitcher once armed with a sinking fastball and a knee-buckling curveball has never thrown a pitch for the Mariners. He is the executive vice president and general counsel for the Major League ball club.
And though there was distinguished experience in the former community college pitcher’s law career before being named to the position with the Mariners in 2017, he will also tell you how his experience at CSUN helped shape him in his early adult years, starting a path to his eventual dream job.
“I grew up in a modest but hard-working family. My parents were very young when I was born and did not go to college. My grandparents were gardeners, cooks and domestic workers. So I grew up with fairly limited insight into educational and career opportunities,” Rivera said. “I came to CSUN at a point where I just kind of figured out education. It was at a point when I was exploring opportunities. [CSUN] provided a level of confidence that I hadn’t had before, the ability to do well in school, the chance to explore different areas of interest.”
Finding the Path
Today, Rivera goes to work at T-Mobile Park — an architectural wonder with outside views of downtown Seattle, Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, and inside views of pristinely landscaped grass and a baseball diamond.
Rivera played baseball in high school and at Santa Monica College. While attending CSUN, he coached high school baseball in Bel Air. He always bled Dodger blue — even attempting to purchase a ham radio to get the right frequency to listen to Dodger games when he went to law school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. His career goal at Gonzaga was to practice sports law.
But Rivera became a senior trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for nearly five years after law school and spent nearly 20 years in private practice as a partner at Perkins Coie LLP (as well as a stint with Fannie Mae from 2006-2008 as vice president in charge of internal investigations). In 2013, Rivera was recognized on the “U.S. News – Best Lawyers in America” list. While at Perkins Coie, he represented the Mariners on a few cases. After Rivera’s predecessor at the Mariners retired, the CSUN alumnus was hired by the Major League club.
“My friends and family will remind me how lucky I am and what an incredible job it is, especially my longtime friends and family who know how important baseball is in my life,” Rivera said.
Rivera said he would not have gone to college if it weren’t for baseball. He described himself as a poor high school student. After graduating from Canyon High School in the Santa Clarita Valley, he attended Santa Monica College where his primary intent was to play baseball. But he began to enjoy school.
Rivera said he chose CSUN because it checked off some key boxes for him — mainly he was lured by its history program and his familiarity and comfort with the university’s location. Rivera blossomed at CSUN, and because he enjoyed his experience and recognized what his potential was, he continued his education after earning his initial degree.
“I can think back on some of the history courses in particular that provided the room to analyze different issues as opposed to rote memorization and really think critically about what I thought were really interesting topics,” Rivera said. “It also, I think, was the first place where somebody actually taught me how to write, which was really important. That turned out to be a basic building block for law school and really carries through to this day. I have no doubt that I can trace my writing style back to some of the important tips I received while at Cal State Northridge.”
CSUN also provided the catapult to law school. While a CSUN student, he attended a presentation where a CSUN alumna and practicing lawyer came to campus and spoke about the profession and her experience. It sparked his interest in the profession.
Courtroom to Ballpark
After CSUN and for the following 25 years, Rivera has crafted a special career. At the DOJ, Rivera was prosecuting housing and lending discrimination cases. He takes pride in the impact he made there, specifically getting compensation for victims of discrimination and helping to change lending practices for persons of color, he said. His last four years at Perkins Coie, one of the largest law firms in the country, were spent as managing partner for the firm’s Seattle office. But then the opportunity with the Mariners arrived.
As executive vice president and general counsel, Rivera oversees human resources, government relations, and community relations. He also oversees legal functions — for example, he worked on the negotiations and agreement between the Mariners and T-Mobile in the naming rights of the ballpark and the Mariners’ 25-year lease agreement in 2018 with the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD), which owns the stadium.
Rivera is passionate about community service. He is currently the board chair of United Way of King County. The Washington State Bar Association is awarding him this year’s Sally P. Savage Leadership in Philanthropy Award for his work in the Seattle area to help prevent evictions and homelessness. Last year, Rivera helped bring more awareness of the crisis to the Mariners, who then pledged $3 million to combat homelessness in Seattle.
In a busy first full year with the team, Rivera also worked with his alma mater to produce a successful CSUN alumni reception in Seattle that included a Mariners game.
“It was a great opportunity to think about how meaningful Cal State Northridge was to me. How impactful it was at a really critical time,” Rivera said.
In the end, Rivera made it to the Major Leagues. In the day-to-day routine of his job, it’s easy for him to forget the journey, and that even though his uniform is much different than what the guys on the field wear, his baseball dream has come true.
“But it never takes much time to remind myself how lucky I am,” he said.