FARGO-Leo Pina said he was 4 years old when he started playing baseball in his native Venezuela. He remembers at times having to use socks bundled up for a baseball.
"When I was kid, I just played in the morning, played in the night, played everyday so it's a lot of memories," Pina said. "When you are grow up in our country, It's like a passion. You play everyday with your friends."
That childhood passion still burns for Pina, now an infielder for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. He's been one of the top hitters for the RedHawks this American Association baseball season. Pina had one hit Saturday in F-M's 7-6 victory against the Winnipeg Goldeyes before 3,579 fans at Newman Outdoor Field.
"His style of hitting, you can put him anywhere in the lineup," RedHawks hitting coach Chris Coste said. "He made some simple adjustments about that 15-game mark and ever since he's been very consistent and then now he's gotten even hotter. It's pretty impressive to watch."
The RedHawks (24-22) have won three consecutive games. Keury De La Cruz's walk-off sacrifice fly in the ninth inning lifted F-M to victory.
Pina is batting .335 with 15 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 31 RBIs in 46 games. Saturday against the Goldeyes, he played third base and batted fourth in the F-M lineup.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Pina gives F-M defensive versatility, having already playing third base, shortstop and first base this season for the RedHawks.
"He can play every infield position," RedHawks manager Michael Schlact said. "The versatility is there and the willingness is there."
Pina has been locked in at the plate as of late with eight hits over the past four games, including a 4-for-5 performance in F-M's 9-4 victory against the Goldeyes on Thursday night at Newman.
"It's hard to hit," Pina said. "It's mentality. You have to be strong because it's hard to hit."
The 24-year-old Pina was 17 when he started his pro career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He advanced as high as Class Double-A with the Cardinals before signing with the RedHawks prior to this season, his first with an independent team.
"It's a good experience because you learn," Pina said. "My goal is to sign with an (organization) on more time and try to make the big leagues. That's the dream."
The RedHawks took a 4-3 lead against the Goldeyes in the fourth inning after center fielder Devan Ahart blasted a two-run home run to center field. Chris Jacobs had an RBI single in the second inning and Maikol Gonzalez added a sacrifice fly in the third innings for F-M's first two runs. Pina had a single in the fifth inning to extend his hitting streak to four games.
The Goldeyes countered in the seventh inning, tying the score at 4-4 on Josh Romanski's RBI single into right field. The RedHawks answered with two runs in the home half of the seventh inning. RBI singles from Gonzalez and Steve Zimmerman gave F-M a 6-4 lead.
Winnipeg third baseman Tommy Mendonca belted a two-run home run in the top of the ninth to tie the score at 6-6, setting the stage for De La Cruz's game-winning RBI.
Mendonca, who started the season with the RedHawks, also clubbed a two-run home run in the second inning.
RedHawks right fielder Tim Colwell finished 3-for-5 and scored two runs.
The RedHawks honored Coste on Saturday with a throwback jersey giveaway. The first 1,000 fans got No. 10 Coste jerseys. Coste played for the RedHawks from 1996 to 1999. He went on to win a World Series championship with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
The RedHawks took batting practice in the replica throwback Coste jerseys.
"You look back to 1996, I wasn't even supposed to make the team initially," said Coste, who played Major League Baseball for four seasons. "Life is very different for me without the RedHawks in my past."