By Timothy Durham
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The story of sophomore Texas A&M pitcher Rafael Pineda is one about family, baseball, hardship and more baseball.
Rafael's father, also named Rafael, had his son playing baseball early on. The elder Pineda was a player in the California Angels organization, so baseball became a common ground for the two Rafaels.
"Me and my dad were really close when I was growing up," Pineda said. "Baseball-wise, he didn't want me to learn breaking pitches. He taught me a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball and a changeup. Every day we would play catch in the yard for a couple of hours. It was really exciting for me."
But having a father in the major leagues can not only be a source of experience, but one of pressure too. Rafael said that this pressure hasn't been too tough for him, and he treats his dad's experience as a leg up on his competition.
"I have big league blood in my family," Pineda said. "It doesn't put too much pressure on me, it kind of motivates me, makes me feel more confident. It's really exciting and it really motivates me to get better."
Coming out of high school, Pineda was a powerhouse on the mound while ending his senior year with a perfect 5-0 record and a 1.88 ERA. But in college, two events changed up his life very quickly.
About two months into his time at Texas A&M, Pineda's shoulder started hurting. After a drop in his throwing speed, he visited the doctor, but not much was found. After rehab, his speed returned some then suddenly dropped again. This time an MRI proved that Pineda's rotator cuff was torn and it would require surgery to fix.
Pineda said that going through that put strain on his entire life.
"It was rough. It took away the passion I had for life," Pineda said. "I wake up every day excited to come to practice or games. When I couldn't come help the team play, I was kind of an outsider. It really took its toll on my life; grades-wise, relations with my family and my girlfriend. But thank God, he healed me and now I'm able to do my best."
Pineda's next big event came in the form of a newborn son. Although only nine months old, Pineda says that his son is up in the stands watching him and that he's a driving force.
"He's up there, he's only 9 months, but I feel like he's up there watching me," Pineda said. "He's my biggest fan. When I'm done playing ball, I want to be able to tell him, I want to be able to back up the things I have to tell him. Every day I get to spend with him, every day is the best day of my life. When I get done with a bad inning or something, he motivates me to get back out there and get the job done for the team."
Pineda said that having a son also helped bring him and his father closer together.
"In high school with kids being rebellious, me and my dad drifted apart a bit," Pineda said. "But then when I had my son, him and I were on the same level then. We were both fathers. It brought us much closer and now we can relate to each other a lot more."
On the diamond, Pineda came back for his sophomore year ready to earn his jersey number for his team. In his first start as an Aggie, Pineda pitched seven innings of no-hit baseball against Illinois-Chicago University on Feb. 19, 2012. Pineda gave up only one hit-batsman and one double in the seven innings before exiting the game.
Pineda said that his mentors on the team are seniors Ross Stripling and Michael Wacha and that his chance to observe the two Aggies is a great way to learn.
"Stripling and Wacha, they're two examples," Pineda said. "I scout them; learn how they approach pitches and batters. It really makes me better also. They're out there winning games; I need to be out there doing the same."
Rafael's family is from the Dominican Republic, but he was born in the United States. Rafael says that the intensity with which baseball is played in his family's home country is something he tries to bring to his game in the United States.
One other thing Rafael brings with him from the Dominican Republic is the cuisine. Rafael loves to cook and his favorite plate to make is an authentic Dominican plate.
"My favorite plate is chicken, rice and plantains. Just beans rice and different types of styles," Pineda said. "Cooking is definitely a hobby, definitely when I'm done with school and ball I want to go to culinary school."
At Texas A&M, Pineda keeps strictly in line with the team mentality to bring home championships.
"Our team goal everyday is what can I do to help my team win a championship, and that's Texas A&M," Pineda said. "We want to be hosting a regional and super regional and then going to Omaha and not just showing up, but winning multiple games. Everything I can do to help my team get there is what I'm going to do my best to do."