The Nationals’ walkup song playlist is an expansive showcase of personalities. So when the Spanish version of the cinematic classic hit “Hakuna Matata” played over the loudspeakers in September, the selection sparked a moment of pause -- “Wait, is this … the song from ‘The Lion King?’” -- and then, its intended message -- a smile and a feeling of joy.
Catcher Israel Pineda knew that when he got to the big leagues, he wanted to share his favorite song with his team and fans. “The Lion King” has been his No. 1 movie since childhood, with Pumbaa as his favorite character.
Pineda, ranked as the Nats’ No. 27 prospect by MLB Pipeline, made his Major League debut on Sept. 11. He took his first at-bat at Nationals Park two days later, and he walked up to the plate to a song by Tego Calderón. Then Pineda changed up his music. A familiar melodic intro with lyrics sung by Claudia Pizá, Raúl Carballeda and Francisco Colmenero introduced the 22-year-old for his at-bats.
The song was fitting for Pineda, who could almost always be seen smiling while competing in Spring Training through the end of the season, when he joined the Nats as a backup catcher. The words are so significant to him that he has a “Lion King” tattoo on his forearm.
“I love the music because everything’s fun,” Pineda said in late September. “They say enjoy your life, enjoy everything and don’t worry, always be happy.”
Next month, Pineda will carry that mantra into camp as he vies for a return to the big league roster. He spent most of last season with High-A Wilmington and appeared in only six Triple-A games before he was called up to the Nats, with whom he made four starts.
With Keibert Ruiz locked in as the starting catcher, Pineda and Riley Adams will contend for playing time. (Tres Barrera signed a Minor League deal with the Cardinals last week.) Because of Pineda’s jump to the Majors last season, the Nationals could determine that he would benefit from getting more reps with Rochester to continue his development. Or he could make a strong impression in camp and earn a spot backing up Ruiz.
Either way, Pineda will approach the process with the same mindset. It is, as the song goes, a problem-free philosophy.