Robinson Chirinos ended his MLB career helping the Orioles build their culture

ATLANTA — As his baseball playing career draws to a close, Robinson Chirinos hasn’t forgotten the advice he received two decades ago while playing in the Venezuelan winter league.

He was 18 or 19, at the start of a run that would earn him 10 years of major league service for six franchises, when Venezuelan star Edgardo Alfonzo dismissed the young receiver.

“Let people remember you as a good person, because you are already a good player,” Alfonzo told Chirinos. “One day you’re going to take off your uniform, and what you’ve done in people’s lives and the way you treat people is how they’re going to remember you.”

Chirinos finally took off his uniform.

The 38 year old man announced his retirement of Major League Baseball this week, closing a chapter that began at the turn of the century. He struggled for 10 seasons in minor league baseball, worked in the Venezuelan winter league and finally broke through to the promised land of MLB.

But he never forgot what Alfonzo told him, so at home with his family, Chirinos recited those words as the mantra he lived through his life – both personally and within the professional baseball.

It was what drove him to join the Baltimore Orioles in 2022 for what turned out to be his last stint in the league, and it’s what he brought to the clubhouse every day as a than a veteran in a team full of inexperienced players not much older than him. was when Alfonzo shared this wisdom with him.

Now, on the other side, he thinks back to the relationships he developed more than the games he played. He thinks about how he treated his teammates, coaches, trainers and the security guards who waited late at night for him to come home.

He hopes that when they think back to Chirinos, they think of him as a person before they think of him as a player.

“You get in front of people every day as a major league player, and you don’t know what those people are dealing with,” Chirinos said. “You can be nice, even if you did 0 for 4 and 4K the day before.”

When the Orioles signed Chirinos, they always had a short-sighted view of what he would bring to Baltimore. As much as the Orioles hoped Chirinos could produce on the field during his one-year contract, they hoped his presence, along with right-hander Jordan Lyles and second baseman Rougned Odor, would help guide a young roster to through the stress of a major player. league season.

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There was even more responsibility for Chirinos, after all. Once Adley Rutschman arrived at the majors, Chirinos became the mentor of the 2019 first pick, guiding the top prospect through learning a pitching staff while producing at the plate.

But Chirinos’ reach went far beyond Rutschman.

“One of the things I said to guys last year, ‘Make sure you look to your left and your right. Don’t get caught on me, me, me. You need the guy to your right or to your left to win. When you win, your numbers are going to be there, you know?,” Chirinos said.

Shortstop Jorge Mateo, who along with outfielder Anthony Santander was close to Chirinos, remembers his message vividly: “Just the importance of helping each other, helping the guys who are starting to come in along the way, and just to have a smile through it all.” .”

Chirinos recalled how last season changed when the Orioles caught fire and made an unexpected run to the playoffs before failing. A big reason, he thinks, is how Baltimore started playing as a team.

They created a welcoming clubhouse atmosphere, celebrating everyone’s accomplishments with the championship belt for player of the match. The top hitter would have a Polaroid photo taken and hung in the batting cage. After a home run, Chirinos and others put an Orioles chain around the batter’s neck.

Chirinos sees many of those same qualities this year, even without him in the clubhouse to orchestrate those traditions.

“Seeing what the guys are doing this year doesn’t surprise me,” Chirinos said. “Because now they know what they have to do to have a great clubhouse, to play together and go out and compete with the talent of the whole group. I guarantee they’re going to win a World Series in the years to come. , and it will probably be the best, when I see this team win a championship and I know that I had my fingerprint in that championship, because I was kind of part of the culture that they now have in the organization .

With Chirinos gone, manager Brandon Hyde can still feel his influence seeping into the clubhouse.

“There’s no question about it,” Hyde said. “He was a big part of changing the culture last year, making these guys think they’re good enough to win in this league. Just the way he stood up in meetings , his presence, his canoe speech, I miss it. I miss having him with me.

For the next year, Chirinos told his wife, Heidy, that he looked forward to being home with her and their two sons. He is thrilled to wake up in the morning and do the things he couldn’t do while playing professional baseball.

Hyde envisions Chirinos returning to professional baseball in a coaching role. And Chirinos allows himself to dream of that possibility far and wide, a chance to positively impact the lives — not just the careers — of a new generation of baseball players.

“Maybe in the future, I don’t know what God has for me, I would like to coach in the big leagues,” Chirinos said. “I don’t know if that will happen. I care about people, I know the game, being able to continue to help people through management, I think that’s something I would love to do. But we will see.

For now, however, Chirinos will focus on being a father and a husband, although he has never neglected this aspect of his life despite a 162-game campaign. He would take his sons with him to the ballpark.

And even after Chirinos left the Orioles, his influence is well known. When Chirinos and his sons visited the team before a game against the Texas Rangers, he was swarmed by his former teammates.

Throughout his career, Chirinos has learned that players can catch up on themselves, on their performance, trying to establish their place in the majors – and in doing so, they sometimes miss the sight of together.

But once all is said and done, Chirinos won’t dwell so much on the game as on the experiences. He won’t remember his batting average in Baltimore or how many games the Orioles have won. He will remember the dugout shenanigans and team dinners and advice from Alfonzo all those years ago.

“It’s those little things you’re going to say to your son or grandson in 20, 30 years,” Chirinos said, “that really makes a difference in your life and the lives of others.”

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