From three-sport standout and two baseball state championships with Poquoson High, to All-ACC first-team third baseman at Virginia Tech to the past seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Chad Pinder has lived a charmed life.
For those on the Bull Island concerned the shine is wearing off because Pinder, 31, is back in the minor leagues, forget it. Pinder’s charm these days is in his attitude.
Sure, Pinder would like to be, and hopes soon to be, with the Rochester Red Wings’ parent club, the Washington Nationals. But, 10 years after being drafted by the A’s in the second round out of Tech, he still gets paid to play baseball and digs doing so professionally In Norfolk for the first time as the Red Wings continue a six-game series with the Tides at 6:35 p.m. Saturday in Harbor Park.
“This is nostalgic,” Red Wings third baseman Pinder said as he pointed to a spot outside the dugout on the first-base line. “I vividly remember (former MLB All-Star) Jose Reyes signing autographs right there.
“I’m really excited about playing here.”
Some of the comforts of a trip to Norfolk included a cookout Thursday at the Toano home of dad Chris Pinder, a Triple-A pitcher in his day, and bedding with wife Taylor, son CJ (2 ½) and daughter Camden (4 months) at the Suffolk home of younger brother Chase Pinder. Chase is out of town because he plays for the Memphis Redbirds, a member with Rochester and Norfolk of the Triple-A International League.
Pinder also looks forward to playing in front of a large contingent of Poquoson friends, high school teammates and coaches. None of which is to say there isn’t a twinge of regret he’s in the minors after seven seasons as a utility player with Oakland. With the A’s, he played in 553 games, hit 62 home runs and drove in 197 runs.
“A big league job is a big league job, so a lot of people see coming here as a bummer, and I’d be lying if I said that (comparatively) it’s not,” said Pinder, who signed with the Nationals after playing with the Cincinnati Reds during the spring. “The years in Oakland were some of the best times of my life, with some of my best friends in the world.
“I spent 10 years in the (A’s) organization and I’m grateful for it. Grateful for being in the playoffs three times, winning against the White Sox in the first round of the playoffs and getting a hit in my final at-bat last year, then getting a standing ovation from the fans when (manager) Mark Kotsay pulled me from the game.
“But coming (to Rochester) is a part of my story as a player. I have to look at it as an opportunity to fix things if I’m going to play three, four, five or six more years of baseball.”
What Pinder needs to fix, specifically, is his hitting. His contact numbers began to diminish late in his time with the A’s.
In his best season, 2018, he batted .258 with 13 home runs, a .332 on-base percentage and 88 strikeouts in 110 games. He played in 111 games a year ago and notched a similar 12 homers, but struck out 118 times with a .235 on-base percentage.
He acknowledges that age has brought about changes making things slightly more challenging than six years ago. That’s led to overthinking at the plate, a liability against the plethora of major league pitchers throwing in the mid-90s.
“I was dealing with stuff physically and not myself, though I didn’t go on the IL (injured list),” he said. “And I was dealing with feeling more vulnerable mentally than ever before.”
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
He calls that awareness a blessing and feels the old confidence returning with each day as a Red Wing. He’s changed his stance, loading up on his back hip to maintain his balance as he swings through the ball.
The adjustment hasn’t paid immediate dividends statistically — he’s batting .200 in nine appearances — but a quadriceps injury sidelined him for seven games prior to a return to the lineup Thursday. Pinder says he’s making better contact since the change and is optimistic that good things are ahead.
“I absolutely love Rochester, and I look at this as an opportunity to get a ton of at-bats,” he said. “That’s not something I had in the past six years (as a utility player).
“Staying healthy, getting at-bats and doing it here — at a mature place in my life where there’s not as much stress and pressure — is exciting to me.
“I’m going to enjoy every single chance here with these guys. A lot of cool things are happening in my life.”
A life still charmed, thanks to his attitude.
Marty O’Brien, 757-247-4963, email@example.com. Twitter @MartyOBrienDP