Every little boy’s dream is to make it to the Major Leagues. OK, maybe not … but for those of us who share that vision, the yearning never really leaves.

And you gotta figure that Juan Rios had that dream burning in his belly for decades. I mean, he proof is written all over his lines in baseball’s record books.

Rios was born in Puerto Rico in 1942 and spent the first 22 years of his life outside organized American baseball. All that changed just before the 1965 season, though, when the towering (6’3″) middle infielder signed an amateur free agent contract with the New York Mets.

Now, if you know your baseball history, you’ll remember that the Mets were entering their fourth season that spring, fresh off records of 40-120, 51-111, and 53-109.

Nineteen sixty-five wouldn’t be any better, either, as the Not-So Amazin’s finished at 50-112 … in last place, again. The Mets finally climbed out of the cellar in 1966, posting a 66-95 record to finish ninth out of ten National League teams.

Those results didn’t really impact Rios, though, as he didn’t even make a professional appearance in 1965 and then debuted in 1966 by hitting .255 for the Rookie-level Marion Mets in the Appalachian League.

That showing was good enough to get Rios promoted to the Single-A Winter Haven Mets for 1967.

While Rios was busy trying to pull his average above .240, things turned downward again in the Majors as the Mets slipped back into last place.

Not surprisingly, Rios stayed put in 1968, and it looked like he may have stalled on the diamond as his 26th birthday approached in July.

But the new season brought new hope all around.

Gil Hodges took over the dugout in Flushing, and his steady hand had the Mets within a game of .500 as late as June 27. The team finished in ninth place, but markedly improved at 73-89.

Rios, meanwhile, pushed his way from the Raleigh-Durham Mets to the Memphis Blues to the Jacksonville Suns. That Single-A-to-Triple-A sprint had Rios poised to crack the Big League roster just as folks in Queens finally were daring to dream about diamond glory again.

Would there be a place for Rios in the Mets’ infield as New York tried to become a contender? After all, neither second baseman Ken Boswell nor shortstop Bud Harrelson overwhelmed in 1968.

But baseball was expanding for 1969, and that meant four more teams vying for basically the same pool of players. Not too surprisingly, then, when the Mets left Rios unprotected, one of those new clubs swooped in.

1969 Topps Royals 1969 Rookie Stars Bill Butler Juan Rios Pat Kelly

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t wasn’t the expansion draft that shuttled Rios away from the Mets, though. Instead, the Montreal Expos selected him in the Rule 5 Draft in December of 1968.

This had to be great news for Rios, because Rule 5 draftees must go straight to the Big League roster with their new teams. So, even though he wouldn’t be part of whatever the Mets were putting together, Rios would finally get his shot at the Majors.

But there were a couple of wrinkles.

First …

Rios would never see the Montreal lineup because he was purchased by the Kansas City Royals, another expansion team, just before the 1969 season began.

And second …

What the Mets were putting together was an Amazin’ run that made them the 1969 World Series champions against steep, steep odds.

But true to his Rule 5 status, Rios broke camp with the newly-minted Royals, and he also broke into the 1969 Topps set at card #619. He shared that pasteboard with two other Royals “ROOKIE STARS” — pitcher Bill Butler and outfielder Pat Kelly.

Not much after that, Rios made it into the team’s second ever game, against the Minnesota Twins at home in Municipal Stadium.

Subbing for Pat Kelly at second base (kismet, or something), Rios stayed in as the game moved to extra innings and eventually collected a single off Jim Kaat in his only at-bat.

Joe Keough pinch hit for Rios when his slot came around again in the 13th, and the thing didn’t end until Lou Piniella drove home Jackie Hernandez in the bottom of the 17th.

Good enough for a Royals win!

Unfortunately for K.C. and Rios, things didn’t get much better from there.

The expansion team did what expansion teams do, finishing 69-93 but managing to outdistance both the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Pilots in the old American League West during the first year off divisional baseball.

And Rios did what middle infielders of the era did … play middle infield (for 87 games) and not hit. On the season, he picked up 44 hits in 208 plate appearances with just one home run and an anemic slash line of .224/.262/.276.

But he stayed with the big club all season, and that was enough for Topps to include him in their 1970 set, granting him a solo card on #89.

1970 Topps Juan Rios

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None of that was enough to keep him in Kansas City, though, and when his Rule 5 status ran out, so did his time in the Bigs.

Rios spent the next five season bouncing between organizations — Royals, Yankees, Brewers, Twins, White Sox — but never again rising above Triple-A.

In the end, did it matter to Rios that he missed out on the glory of the 1969 Mets? We have no real way of knowing now since the man passed away in 1995 …

But you’ve got to think a season of sun in The Show and a couple of spiffy Topps baseball cards were worthy consolation prizes.

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