Painting Rivals Play on the Field
Kevin Rival painted the corners effectively enough as a pitcher for New Britain High that he earned an opportunity to play professionally.
These days, he’s applying delicate paint strokes with a brush, and broader strokes as an innovative pitching instructor.
Rival, 32, put aside a career as a correctional officer to earn a living at what he loves. He is working as a pitching instructor at Baseball City in Hartford and in his spare time has developed what was an artistic hobby into a passion-driven business.
He has used a professional baseball career that wavered between independent and affiliated teams to establish contacts that have helped him along the way in both of his ventures. A visit to his Rivaled Art website – www.rivaledart.com – reveals a collection of paintings, mostly sports-themed, that impart his considerable dexterity and creativity with a brush.
In the meantime, he absorbed what he learned while working in Bradenton, Fla., at International Management Group, a world-renowned organization that features an eclectic array of sports-related services from the marketing of professional athletes to instructing budding ones.
The State of Connecticut prison system and IMG have lost quite the employee at a time when finding such work is so difficult.
“I like it because it’s a challenge,” Rival said about his life’s pursuit. “I basically achieved a life goal when I was 22-years-old, so I had to find other things to do after baseball.”
Rival graduated New Britain High in 1998 and went to Eastern Connecticut State University. He transferred to CCSU, where he pitched and played the outfield for the Blue Devils. He wasn’t drafted so he signed to pitch in the burgeoning domain of independent ball, starting with the Johnstown Johnnies of the Frontier League in 2002.
“That’s where I really learned how to pitch,” he said. “I was an outfielder and a hitter as well as a pitcher – just a Connecticut baseball player. I had to learn how to pitch professionally.”
His stock rose dramatically in 2003 and 2004 pitching for the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom, managed by former Reds left hander Tom Browning, author of a perfect game.
Pitching out of the bullpen, he set franchise records for games pitched and games finished, saving six the first year and nine the second. He was 2-2 with an 0.56 ERA, struck out 43 and walked just nine in 32 2/3 innings when he got the call during the 2004 All-Star break.
The Milwaukee Brewers told him to report to the Beloit Snappers, their Class A team in the Midwest League. He drove from Kentucky to Wisconsin and took the mound just minutes after exiting the highway.
He finished up with a 1-1 record, a 2.81 ERA. In 25 2/3 innings, he allowed just 17 hits and struck out 28, earning a promotion to the Brewers’ Advanced Class A club, the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League.
His time there – two weeks and six games – was short, but he signed on with the Yankees and reported to the Charleston River Dogs of the South Atlantic League to finish out the season. He befriended a 19-year-old pitching prodigy named Phil Hughes.
“He was one of my closest friends in the minors and we kept in touch,” Rival said. “He’s the reason why Rivaled Art took off.”
Rival painted a portrait of Hughes and arranged to have it placed in his locker when destiny intervened positively once again. Yankees legend Yogi Berra saw the portrait and wound up hiring Rival to do paintings for his museum in New Jersey. The Wall Street Journal just happened to be doing a story about the curiosities the players display in their lockers.
Phil Hughes told WSJ’s Daniel Barbarisi: “He was always real talented, graffiti art, that sort of stuff, but I didn’t know he did that sort of thing to that scale. I knew he liked to doodle and draw, but I had no idea he was a big canvas painter.”
His time at IMG and the publicity generated from his Yankee connections fueled the career change that has Rival doing what he loves most.
“Every time I went to work at the prison I was losing money because I could have been painting,” said Rival, who did some work for former New York Giants defensive back Will Blackmon and is now doing work for Justin Tuck.
“The teaching part is that I always wanted to work with kids and make them better. I never wanted to coach one team, kind of like my dad (Peter, died in 2008 at 65).”
Wouldn’t Peter be proud.