ARLINGTON -- Estrellas de Falcones, a baseball academy founded by Roberto Chirinos, made the finals of their state tournament in 2000 and were one victory away from going to the Venezuelan national tournament.
Marbella Coromoto de Chirinos let her son Robinson know what was at stake against the arch-rival Pelicanos.
"My father and mother said to me, 'Be careful, pay attention and really concentrate,'" Chirinos said. "They said, 'We've never beaten this team. We really need to beat them.'"
The game must have been a thriller because it was 10-10 going into the ninth inning when up stepped the Falcon's 16-year-old infielder who was a few weeks away from signing with the Cubs.
"I hit a grand slam," Chirinos said. "My father and mother were so happy and proud. They were jumping and so excited. It was the seventh game. It was the first state championship my father's academy had ever won."
Mr. and Mrs. Chirinos were certainly happier that day than they were a few years earlier. Roberto's car was parked on the street and his wife wanted it in the garage. She asked her 14-year-old son to do it since he had just learned to drive. After all, what could go wrong in moving a car from in front of the house to the garage?
"I wasn't paying attention," Chirinos said. "I mean, I was listening but I wasn't paying attention. Instead, I took the car around the block, I ran over a stop sign and I got hit. My mom was real mad. She didn't hit me. She didn't do that. But I had to skip watching TV and I couldn't go to my baseball games for three weeks."
It wasn't a fun moment for Chirinos but as he looks back and reflects fondly on his mom for Mother's Day, the good times far outweigh the bad growing up in Punto Fijo, a city of approximately 275,000 on the Paraguana Peninsula and extreme northern tip of Venezuela. Punto Fijo is in the heart of Venezuela's rich oil region, where the smell of petroleum lingers in the air and most everybody lives in the shadows of the two massive refineries built by Shell and Standard in the 1940s.
The Paraguana Refinery Complex is the world's largest of its kind, pumping out about a million barrels a day. Chirinos' father is a subcontractor who owns his company. His job was to fix anything and everything that went wrong in the refinery.
"Anything that broke, he fixed it," Chirinos said.
The oil business is a non-stop proposition. Like Las Vegas, there are no clocks on the oil rigs or in the refinery. There were times when Roberto Chirinos would go to work at 6 a.m. and return home 12-13 hours later. Or he would be go at 4 p.m. and not be back until the sun came up.
That left the duties of raising six children to a mother whom Chirinos calls a very special lady.
"My mom is unique," Chirinos said. "She is filled with love. It's like the love that God gives us. She was always there for us. She never took a job, she was too busy raising her children. She would be up at 6 in the morning cooking us breakfast. She loved to cook for us. She would help us with our homework, take us to the baseball fields.
"She is very special ... so nice, she is a reflection of what I try to be: good manners, very respectful. There was times when she was sick and she never said anything. We knew something wasn't right, but she wouldn't complain about it. She always told us never to give up, just stay focused and always stay positive.
"She was always taking care of whatever we needed. At the same time, she was full of love, she also had to play the role of the father. She was tough on us when we did something wrong, she would tell us to do the right thing and fix whatever wrong you did."
That includes fixing toppled stop signs. But Marbella was there along with wife Heidy during the toughest year of Chirinos' life.
The Cubs signed Chirinos as an infielder, and he spent eight unremarkable seasons in their farm system with little hope of ever reaching the Major Leagues. Then, in 2008, Chirinos switched to catcher and made a quick transition. He was a Minor League All-Star in 2009 and 2010, then was one of four players acquired by the Rays from the Cubs in a Jan. 8, 2011, trade for pitcher Matt Garza.
Chirinos eventually made the Major Leagues, playing in 20 games for the Rays that season. He had a chance for more playing time in 2012 but was hit in the face mask by a foul ball. Chirinos was initially expected to miss a few days. Instead, he sustained a significant concussion that took a full year of recovery.
"I had headaches and was sleeping two to three hours a night," Chirinos said. "It was really bad. But my mom and my wife were there with me every day for a year, helping me get through it. My mom, when I was young and had a problem or was struggling, was always there with good advice for me. She was there when I got hurt.
"When you are family, you support everyone. In my case, it's what made me so strong and helped me get through it, to have those family ties. That's why my mom means everything to me."