By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – A lot can happen in a year.
It’s been almost 12 full months since Daniel Pinero signed a professional contract to play with the Detroit Tigers, after the organization selected him in the ninth round of last summer’s draft, and since then, he has already logged some highlights and less-than-ideal moments in his professional career.
Signing after his junior season at the University of Virginia, the shortstop from Toronto, Ont., already had two appearances at the College World Series under his belt, with a championship win in 2015. Pinero joined the Cavaliers out of the Ontario Blue Jays program, and multiple appearances with the Canadian Junior National Team during his high school playing days.
Getting his start in the Tigers organization last summer, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound shortstop was assigned to the rookie class Gulf Coast League out of the gate, before joining the short-season affiliate in Connecticut in July and spending the remainder of his first pro season in the New York-Penn League. This year, Pinero is in the class-A Midwest League, manning the infield for the West Michigan Whitecaps.
“You’ve got to play every single day for 142 now,” Pinero said. “You’ve got to come out with the same mentality and pretty much do the same routine every day, because you’ve got a game every day. You can’t look back at the game before, or even before that, so you have to play every day like a new day.
“In college, you obviously don’t have a game every single day. So you have some days where you can work on some things that you might need to work on. You can take extra fielding one day, and not have a game that same day. The adjustment is playing every single day, so it’s about not thinking about it too much, just going out and playing, and trusting what you’ve prepared for through the off-season and spring training.”
Making the move from college ball to the pro ranks has been relatively easy for Pinero, enjoying spending as much time on the field as possible, and loving the fact that he is able to call baseball his job.
“I still can’t believe I get paid for this,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of guys in the clubhouse and they’re awesome, and it makes every day easy. When you struggle, you’ve got those guys in the locker room you can talk to and joke around with, and they just make everything easier.”
With Pinero in the Whitecaps clubhouse are two other Canadians who took similar paths to West Michigan – Windsor, Ont., native Jacob Robson signing out of Mississippi State and Cole Bauml of Muenster, Sask., joining the Tigers from Northern Kentucky – who have added to Pinero’s level of comfort as he continues to make his way up the ladder.
“It’s nice just having that group of Canadians and knowing you went through the same thing,” the 23-year-old middle infielder said. “Playing with teams like the Ontario Blue Jays, or Cole being from Saskatchewan it had to be even harder for him, I know that.
“We see how lucky we are to be here, going through what we did, and we’ve got guys here from Michigan who understand the Canadians too. Guys from California or Florida, they don’t really understand what Canadians go through, when we say we took a fifth year in high school to play with OBJ, that doesn’t exist in America. It’s comforting to have guys who understand.”
Suiting up for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic in Miami in March, Pinero relished the opportunity to play with an entire squad of guys from north of the border who share the same sense of understanding, and the pride they all take in wearing the red-and-white uniform.
“The WBC was crazy,” Pinero said. “Just being around guys like [Justin] Morneau and Pete Orr and Chris Leroux and a bunch of jokers. I picked up on little things from them, and just seeing the way they handle their business on and off the field, it was a great experience. I loved it, and hopefully I can do that again.”
After his tours with Team Canada as a junior, playing at Marlins Park was Pinero’s first shot at the senior national squad, and he enjoyed the differences he felt with the chance to play for the team at the highest level of international baseball.
“One thing that sticks out to me is the fans,” Pinero said. “The fans in Miami were crazy, with the Dominicans playing. Being in that group with the Dominican and Team USA, all these people who love baseball came out to watch these all-star lineups on the field. Seeing the crowd and being around that environment, and how loud it was, we didn’t really get that in Colombia when I was 18 years old playing for the junior team. The stadium was amazing too, so it was awesome.”
Despite the team’s performance – losing three straight games in the toughest pool with Dominican Republic, Colombia, and eventual champion Team USA – and not getting a lot of playing time with the squad, Pinero cherishes the experience he had.
“I didn’t play that much but seeing the way those guys took batting practice and what they were trying to focus on was helpful,” he said. “Seeing those guys prepare, and you learn a lot in the dugout as well, things that you can do to prepare for a game. And being around young guys like [Josh] Naylor, he’s a huge joker, and [Mike] Reeves too, they were awesome.”
After beginning his year with the highlight experience of the Classic, Pinero ran into a season lowlight with the Whitecaps when he became Internet infamous for a play he made at second base – where he stepped on the runner – that started a brawl between his team and the Dayton Dragons, earning him a five-game suspension and a plethora of social media criticism.
“It was just a little tussle and it got out of hand,” Pinero said, reluctantly. “After what happened, it blew up on the Internet. It was a little misunderstanding and obviously I regret doing what I did, so we just have to move on from it…It was tough to sit and watch for five games. I was sitting right behind home plate every game. And baseball looks a lot easier when you’re sitting in the stands.”
With his suspension served, plenty of season left to play, and his whole career ahead of him, Pinero is excited at what lay ahead. He hopes that in the end, he can be remembered for much more than one heat-of-the-moment mistake.
“I want to be a shortstop in the big leagues,” Pinero said. “I just need to go along with my game. My defence is my specialty, obviously being a shortstop, and I feel like no matter how I do with the bat it’s just being able to be that core guy on the infield is important.
“The shortstop is the leader of the infield, so being that guy who controls the game in the infield, and then being a team guy, being a great teammate, and being someone who other people like playing with. I feel like that takes you a long way.”