Faith, perseverance paying off for Chirinos
Backstop emerged from long Minor League career, concussion to impact Rangers in 2014
ARLINGTON -- March 11, 2012, was a momentous day in the life of Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos. In the morning, he felt he made a strong and lasting commitment in his relationship with God.
That afternoon, Chirinos was struck directly in the face mask by a foul ball.
"I remember the day because I cried in my heart, and it was the day I had my concussion," Chirinos said almost three years later. "I felt Him in the morning, and I had the concussion in the afternoon.
"He talked to me -- and that morning, I really felt Him in my heart. It was hard to run away. I'm not like other people who had people talking to them about God. It wasn't like other people talking to me about God; it was Him. It was something I never forgot."
One event helped sustain Chirinos through the other, when the concussion turned into an unexpected ordeal that forced him to miss the entire 2012 season.
"I just thank God [that He] made it possible for me to be here," Chirinos said. "He is the one who gave me the strength to keep me believing I was getting better and giving me the strength to get through that, and then my family being around me and all the people who pushed me trying to get me where I am."
There was also Dr. Michael Collins at the University of Pittsburgh. Chirinos calls him the "best doctor in the world."
"I am always thankful for him," Chirinos said.
Chirinos was already a long shot to reach the Major Leagues. Signed by the Cubs as an infielder out of Punto Fijo, Venezuela, in 2000, he had already put in 11 seasons in the Minor Leagues before going to camp with the Rays in 2012. The Cubs switched Chirinos to catcher in '08, then traded him to the Rays in '11. He played in 20 games for Tampa Bay that year and was hoping for a more substantial role in '12 before he took the foul ball off his mask.
It happened in the ninth inning in a Spring Training game against the Pirates. Chirinos finished the inning, but when he got to the dugout, he started feeling terrible. By the time he got to the clubhouse, he was throwing up. Chirinos left the ballpark on a stretcher.
Chirinos' ordeal was just beginning. He was dealing with constant headaches, dizziness, nausea and overwhelming anxiety that his career might be over. Chirinos had to stay in his apartment in Port Charlotte, Fla., for months while waiting for the symptoms to subside. He was lucky to get one or two hours of sleep every night. It wasn't until he started having regular visits with Collins, a concussion expert, that Chirinos was finally able to overcome his problems.
"He helped me a lot," Chirinos said. "There were hard moments. That is something that, hopefully, I don't ever have to remember."
The Rays sold Chirinos' contract to the Rangers on April 8, 2013. He spent most of that season catching at Triple-A Round Rock, but he did play 13 games with Texas and hit .179.
The Rangers weren't counting on him to be on their Major League roster this past season. But catching instructor Bengie Molina was one of the few who said not to overlook Chirinos. So when Geovany Soto got hurt during Spring Training and J.P. Arencibia struggled at the plate, Chirinos became Texas' starting catcher.
On a team populated by injured All-Stars, it was easy to overlook Chirinos. The 30-year-old from the oil-producing region of Venezuela is quiet and soft-spoken, although quite proficient in English as a second language.
But Chirinos was one of the few Rangers who stayed healthy the whole season, even though he estimated he took 15 foul balls off the face mask.
"I didn't feel anything," Chirinos said. "That means I got through it pretty good. I feel my body was OK. I took care of my body during the season, and I know what I have to do to get ready for the game."
He ended up playing in 93 games, hitting .239 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs. He threw out 36.2 percent of attempted basestealers, the best in the American League. Not bad for a converted infielder. For his efforts, he was given the Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man Award, as voted on by local baseball writers.
"I was really proud of what Robinson accomplished last season," hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "He really worked hard and showed he could be a solid contributor at the Major League level."
Chirinos wants to do more both on and off the field. He knows the Rangers are looking for catching help, most likely somebody who can share playing time with him behind the plate. But Chirinos is still training to be Texas' full-time catcher. He decided against playing winter ball so he can stay in Arlington and work out regularly at the ballpark.
"I have been lifting, running, doing a lot of conditioning for my body, trying to get my body in shape for 150 games," Chirinos said. "It's not impossible. If you put your mind and heart into it, you can do it."
Chirinos is also trying to get his charitable foundation more involved in the local community. He will participate in the Cook Children's Hospital Children's Parade in Downtown Dallas on Saturday and he will be a part of the Rangers' visit to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas on Dec. 11. He has already done much with it back home in Venezuela.
"We have been helping a lot of kids the past couple of years," Chirinos said. "We have given baseball equipment to 35 teams and helped people who really needed it. Last year, we helped three people who were having surgery. They didn't have any money to pay the hospital, but we paid for it. We're trying to help the most people we can."
Most players who set up charitable foundations do so only after signing their first lucrative contract. Chirinos put his together a few years ago when there was still considerable doubt if he would ever make the Major Leagues.
"I started the foundation one day when I went to church," Chirinos said. "I remember the pastor talking about those commercials on TV, like St. Jude's Hospital. People see those commercials and they feel they want to do something to help, but they never do anything. In that moment when the pastor said that, you feel you want to help the people you can.
"I remember that day I went home and I called my dad and I told him we were going to start the foundation. I think God has been good to me for a while and allowed me to help people. Hopefully in the future, we can get more people into this and raise more money and help more people than we are right now."