Tuesday, March 8, 2016
HAPPY 50TH, MICKEY PINA
When I logged on to Facebook today and saw the name, "Mickey Pina" next to the birthday
icon on the homepage, a flood of memories rushed through my mind quicker than it takes
ice cream to freeze the brain when you consume it too fast.
I haven't seen Mickey Pina in 28 years, but for six straight months in 1988 I saw him every
single day as teammates on the Lynchburg Red Sox, the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red
I'd like to say Pina was the type of guy you'd meet once and you'd remember forever, but he
just wasn't back then. He was often quiet and never one to be the life of a party because he
never said very much and didn't touch alcohol.
However, after watching him put together the season he did in 1988, Mickey Pina became a
guy I'll never forget. Ever.
Pina was a shade under 5'10" with the shredded physique of a bodybuilder. I called him the
"Toy Cannon", after former MLB star Jimmy Wynn who gained fame as a diminutive
centerfielder who wielded prodigious power for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.
After a brilliant career at Eckerd College in Florida where he became legendary for tape-
measure home runs, every team in baseball passed on Pina, an outfielder who grew up in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, which was a Jim Rice driver and three-wood away from Fenway
The Red Sox took a flier on the hometown kid, signing him as an undrafted free-agent. Pina
was elated to get the chance to play for his favorite team, but if the eyes are indeed the
window to the soul, it didn't take much to see the raging inferno burning inside of Pina,
the result of being passed over in the 1987 draft by every team in baseball.
Pina belted 12 home runs in rookie ball, earning a promotion to the Sox team in the
Carolina League in 1988. The circuit was loaded with future MLB stars like Albert Belle,
Bernie Williams, Gerald "Ice" Williams, Moises Alou, Wes Chamberlain, and Kevin
Maas, all who had been high draft picks or bonus babies.
Pina had not been drafted. He probably received a signing bonus of no more than $1,000.
That's it, that's all.
Whatever fueled Pina, he used it to outshine the aforementioned stars and make a very
big statement. And boy, did he ever. Mickey Pina, the undrafted free-agent, belted 21
home runs and drove in 108 runs to earn Carolina MVP honors.
As someone who was his teammate that year, I can tell you the voting wasn't even close.
No player was more valuable to his team than Mickey Pina. The home runs he hit were
majestic ones, ripping through the hot and humid nights in the South like missiles launched
from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.
During our stretch run to the playoffs, it seemed like every hit Pina got, was a big one.
They either tied the game or put us in the lead. It was a sight to behold. The kid that
was overlooked in the draft made sure everyone in the league was paying attention to him.
Pina was driven and possessed a laser-like focus which I had never seen before.
It sometimes bordered on the absurd and on rare occasions, morphed into the comical.
During one game, Pina was on-deck with two outs when the batter before him made
the last out. As the teams were exchanging sides, Pina went into the batters box, oblivious
to what was going on around him. He was going through his routine before facing
As I ran to my position behind home plate, I could barely contain myself before
saying, "Hey, Mick. That's three outs."
When I read an article about Pina several years later about his focus and work ethic,
I can't say I was all that surprised by the words of Ed Nottle, his then-manager
"Mickey Pina worked too hard," Nottle said. "What a great kid. He'd take 50 minutes
extra hitting, he'd take so much stuff, it was unbelievable."
That was the Mickey Pina I remember from 1988. He was addicted to baseball. Thought
about it morning, noon, and night. Baseball was his life. Making it to Boston with the
Red Sox was his dream.
While the Sox were his favorite team, I recall Mike Schmidt being his favorite player.
Schmidt was a power-hitting third baseman for the Phillies at the time, who went on
to earn a place in the Hall of Fame. I liked to kid around with Pina and his obsession
Before one game, I was watching "This Week in Baseball" and I said to a few teammates
"Watch this." I then yelled to Pina in the locker room, "Hey, Mick, Mike Schmidt is
going to be talking about hitting on "This Week in Baseball". Within seconds, Pina came
storming in to the TV room like a bull on wheels.
He didn't see any of us. Didn't even know we were in the room. Pina was in a trance and
breathing hard, waiting anxiously to see the clip of Mike Schmidt.
After several minutes, Pina knew he'd been had. He shouted something underneath his
breath before walking back to his locker to get dressed for the game.
Pina quickly rose to AAA in Pawtucket where he was teammates with Scott Cooper,
Tim Naerhing, Mo Vaughn, and Phil Plantier, all of whom made it to the major leagues.
When I see this picture of the five of them, I say to myself, "Mickey should've been
there with those guys. Nobody worked harder. Nobody cared more about the game, and
certainly none of them loved the Red Sox as much as Mickey did.
Pina came up just a bit short in his quest to make it to Boston with the Red Sox. I'm
sure being so close to fulfilling his dream took him a while to get over. It would be
that way for anyone who invested nearly his whole life to get there.
You have a lot to be proud of Mickey Pina. You were a great teammate, friend, and
ballplayer. The season you put together in 1988 was nothing short of amazing. You
were the MVP and everybody in the league knew you were "The Man", that year.
Happy 50th birthday, Mickey Pina. I will never forget you, brother.