By Michael Haag | Sports Writer, Video by Braden Murray | Broadcast Reporter
Tight-knit relationships ensure the journey toward anything in life will be enjoyable, especially in sports. When playing the infield in baseball, having a close bond with someone you work side-by-side with every day will only bolster that area of the field and promote positive performance come game time. Meet the Double Play Duo, middle infielders sophomore Tre Richardson and junior Jack Pineda, two athletes that, over the course of a year, have developed an unwavering bond.
Pineda and Richardson have both started at shortstop and second base and have alternated in those roles. The ability to lock down those two spots came easy for them.
“We have the two positions anchored down,” Richardson said. “When you play with each other for a year or so, you learn more about your person on and off the field. Shortstop-second base combo is like the quarterback-wide receiver combo. You’re there for each other on the field all the time.”
Not having to worry about the middle infield when looking at the lineup is a luxury for head coach Steve Rodriguez, who is happy to have two guys that fill some of the toughest positions on the diamond in a big way.
“I think they [Pineda and Richardson] probably have the hardest job on our team,” Rodriguez said. “When you have a head coach who was also an infielder, you have certain standards you’d like to make sure your middle infielders have. When you see the character those two possess, the athletic ability, the baseball instinct, the constant wanting to be coached, constantly learning, always asking questions, it makes my job really easy.”
Pineda appreciates how Richardson’s swagger and confidence rubbed off on him and has changed how he plays the game. On the flip side, Pineda’s more strategic approach has influenced Richardson’s style of play as well.
“Something that I really like about his game is he has a lot of swag,” Pineda said. “I think he’s definitely given me some freedom and a little bit more swag. I think on the flip side of it, I’m a little bit more analytical and it has rubbed off on him, and then it just branches from there.”
Over the course of their time together, the Double Play Duo has never played on intersquads together until this year. That was always a joke for them, but now getting that experience together has helped make some spectacular double plays possible.
“The one running joke is we were never on the same team on intersquads last year,” Richardson said. “Being able to play with each other up the middle all throughout the fall and up until now, it helps a lot. We did a [double] play last week or two weeks ago, where it was just improvised but it worked. And I said this time last year, it would have been something where we would have collided or something. It makes it a lot better knowing what we can and can’t do.”
The credit to create unique opportunities like this also stems from the duo’s age and experience. Rodriguez said the fact that his middle infielders are a tad bit older and more likely to try new things makes the game more comfortable.
“I think the great part as a coach [is] that when you have older guys, the game slows down a little bit for them,” Rodriguez said. “Things can happen, they can look at me, I can nod one way or hand gesture and they’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s just the comfortability with each other and them knowing that, ‘Hey, I’m going to try this or do that.’ They’re not deer in the headlights.”
That comfortability allows the tandem to make conversation and joke around a bit, even mid-game. This ability to go from fun to seriousness in the blink of an eye is part of the strength of their bond.
“We have some good conversations in between pitches on the field,” Pineda said. “It’s one of those things you can truly tell we’re both just really comfortable with the other person out there because the intensity of the game is happening, and we’re telling jokes mid-pitch or in between pitches.”
The level of comfort between the duo also makes their ability so prominent. Not only does this help in their friendship, but Richardson believes it has brought their level of in-game communication to new heights.
“The communication is at an all-time high,” Richardson said. “Honestly, I mean we’re talking about everything in between baseball, or if it’s just making fun of or making a joke of something; we’re doing everything out there. It just adds to the comfort level and just knowing that as soon as the pitch hits, we’re going to lock in and we’re going to try to make the best play and help our team win.”
Off the diamond, Richardson and Pineda enjoy hanging around each other along with some of the other guys on the team. Pineda joked that Richardson is “quite the Topgolfer,” much to the dislike and disapproval of Richardson.
“I’m not good at golf,” Richardson said. “That’s like the thing in our house and he [Pineda] doesn’t live with us but he’s basically a fifth roommate. Everybody’s a golfer in the house except for me and so we go to Topgolf every now and then and everybody is driving the ball perfectly fine. [Meanwhile,] I’m shanking it to the right or I’m hitting the ground too much.”
What helped push this off-field growth was Pineda and Richardson’s decision to stay in Waco over the summer. This allowed them to work on their craft and spend loads of time together in and out of the ballpark. They found themselves spending countless hours together.
“Our relationship really grew over the summer,” Pineda said. “We both decided to not play summer ball and stay on campus and train here. Honestly, the only time we spent apart from each other was sleeping. We woke up, we would come work a kids camp here, lift after that and then we’d go home and play video games and watch baseball and then I’d go home and sleep and we’d do the same thing over again.”
Rodriguez wanted his guys to stay back, not only to fine-tune their skills but also to develop chemistry and obtain that strong bond the pairing has today. Putting in those extra hours in the offseason is invaluable to the former MLB infielder, who said it is a huge bonus of their decision to stick around Baylor Ballpark. .
“They were able to just stay here and, to be honest, just kind of become really good friends,” Rodriguez said. “When you have that with a middle infield, that’s one of your biggest gifts as a coach: to have a middle infield that likes each other and plays well together.”
With the days counting down until Baylor baseball’s opening series against the University of Maryland, Pineda and Richardson will look to carry this closeness into the season with the goal being to win games. And if you are ever looking for either half of the Double Play Duo, you can contact one and it will likely lead to the other.