OAKLAND — On the day he was named the Oakland Athletics’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, outfielder Chad Pinder spent the morning playing Wiffle ball. The A’s were about to play their 18th game in 18 days, but Pinder had an appointment to keep.
Former Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt — who was waived and then claimed by Milwaukee in 2017 — called Pinder this past offseason. Vogt had a long-standing relationship with the School of Imagination in Dublin, California, a school geared towards educating special needs and non-special needs children together. He wanted to make sure an Athletic would still be involved.
“I got very lucky,” Pinder said.
Once a month during a homestand, Pinder heads out to Dublin and interacts with the students. On Tuesday, he brought teammates Sean Manaea and Blake Treinen, the latter of whom lives just 10 minutes away. It’s nothing new, said Pinder’s former college coach Pete Hughes, who’s seen Pinder spreading the charitable spirit since he was a sophomore at Virginia Tech.
“For him to make that a part of who he is, that’s as rewarding as it gets,” Hughes said. “Even more rewarding with him getting called up to the big leagues and being an established big leaguer, that makes me just as proud.”
While in his corner of the Oakland clubhouse on Tuesday, speaking about the Clemente Award — named for the Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash while accompanying humanitarian aid supplies to Managua, Nicaragua — Pinder picked up his phone. He’d just gotten a text message from Bryan Mosby, a friend of his from college.
Mosby isn’t your usual college friend. A janitor at Virginia Tech, Mosby lived on campus in one of the dormitories. He was also a part of the Special Olympics bowling team. That’s where the two met.
Like the rest of the Hokies baseball team, Pinder participated in Hughes’s 19 Ways program, which got the team out into the community to find 19 ways to help out every year. The program is named in honor of Hughes’s mother Alice, a nurse who died at 53 from pancreatic cancer. Her favorite number was 19.
Hughes — now at Kansas State — inaugurated 19 Ways at Virginia Tech by having all 35 of his players work an event for the Special Olympics, valeting cars and ushering at a live auction fundraiser in the fall of 2009. A year later, when Pinder arrived on campus, team members helped out at a Special Olympics bowling league.
“I don’t know what it was. I just fell in love with it,” said Pinder, who did helped out with the bowling league as a sophomore, as well. “My junior year, I asked our coach, I said, ‘Do you mind if I do Special Olympics bowling the whole year? Can I do every Thursday?'”
Every Thursday in the fall, he would leave practice about half an hour early to go bowl. He then got to taking a new teammate every time he went. In the winter, when the Special Olympics chapter switched to basketball, Pinder brought more teammates.
“He had a certain connection, and they had a certain connection,” Hughes said. “Then, the Special Olympics groups started coming to our games, and became part of our program. That’s what 19 Ways is all about, and that’s what it’s designed to do.”
Each year, Hughes would give an award to the top 19 Ways player on the team. Pinder won it his last two years. “It was a runaway,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t even close.”
After he got drafted, Pinder returned to Blacksburg to take classes the following winter while helping out Special Olympics volleyball, where he reunited with Mosby, who texts Pinder periodically to congratulate him on his play.
“Chad went above and beyond, and put his money where his mouth is, too, because he took a portion of his signing bonus and bought new basketball hoops for the Special Olympics chapter in the Blacksburg area,” Hughes said. “I’ll bet he didn’t tell you. That’s the first thing he did with his signing bonus money. When kids are running out buying cars, the first thing Chad does is go out there and buy new basketball hoops for the Special Olympics in the New River Valley. Freaking unbelievable.”
On Friday, Pinder visited the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland with Treinen and Manaea. As they played games, colored and passed out A’s gear to pediatric cancer patients, Pinder asked his two teammates to come with him to Dublin next time he went.
“It just happened to be a few days later,” Treinen said. “I boogied on over there. I’d never experienced anything like that. It was eye-opening, pretty interesting.”
Originating as a childcare run by Charlene Sigman, a speech pathologist and educator, in 2001, the school opened a state-of-the-art campus in 2011. A full-inclusion preschool, the school has occupational therapists, speech therapists and tutors, with a wide range of services.
“It was cool to see [Pinder] in his element there,” Treinen said. “For me, learning how to interact and create relationships with kids that I’ve never met before, or have some sort of learning disability, to no disabilities, so that was new for me. I was kind of a fly on the wall, trying to interact the best way I could. I had fun … I’d do it again.”
To break the ice, Treinen shoehorned his 6-foot-5 frame into a tricycle, but by the time he looked up, the kids were on the other side of the yard, playing Wiffle ball with Manaea and Pinder.
“They’re taking hitting lessons from Chad off the tee,” Treinen said. “I was over there for a while, trying to feed the ball back and forth, and Chad had me step in as hitting coordinator, which wasn’t very good.”
Despite his suspect abilities in assembling a coaching staff, Pinder’s proclivity to not only engage the community, but to bring in others, doesn’t surprise his former coach — Hughes — or his current manager, Bob Melvin.
“Chad’s always been mature beyond his years,” Hughes said. “It doesn’t surprise me that he is where he is right now, because he’s humble and he is a workaholic and he’s always mature and an absolute leader, never a follower. Those are the qualities that make good people, and good people get involved in the community.”
“Chad Pinder’s not a guy that maybe is a spotlight guy for us,” Melvin said, “but if you’ve been inside the clubhouse, and know how big a personality he is for us, and has terrific leadership qualities. He’s out and about in the community. He’s a real stand-up guy. He’s one of my favorite guys here.”
The last winner of the Clemente Award to come from the A’s was Dave Stewart, who was inducted into the A’s Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Fans can vote on the Clemente Award, given annually to one of 30 players nominated by their individual teams.
The league-wide winner of the Clemente Award will be selected by a blue ribbon panel that includes Commissioner Rob Manfred, Clemente’s late wife and current MLB Goodwill Ambassador, Vera Clemente, as well as representatives from MLB-affiliated networks and MLB.com. The winner of the fan vote will count as one vote among those cast by the blue-ribbon panel.