The best relief pitcher on the Mets was molded by a general contractor, a man who sculpts million dollar custom homes. Men and women with deep pockets have learned to trust Dennis Rice with their California dreams.

But long before he became a beacon for the affluent, he played caretaker to a younger set of aspirations. Over summers, when his children were off from school, he would take his son, Scott, on visits to construction sites.

"And then we'd find a batting cage somewhere in the area," Mets reliever Scott Rice said earlier this week. "[We would] hit and throw. We were always playing baseball together."

All these years later, those trips to the cages are beginning to bear fruit. On a team with one of the worst bullpens in the majors, this unlikely 31-year-old rookie has been its biggest blessing. In 13 appearances with the Mets, Rice is 1-1 with a 1.84 ERA.

His strikeouts-to-walks ratio is pedestrian (1.13 to 1), but he has found other ways to get outs. Rice has allowed a run in just two of those 13 appearances.

"He's been terrific," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "Extremely durable. When you talk to him, this is what he's been waiting for his whole life, this opportunity."

It was an opportunity that once held unlimited promise, then turned bleak.