It was very ironic — the young man who seemingly never stopped playing baseball taking his senior season off at Iona Prep.
But Riverdale resident Christian Pimentel maintains he made the right decision. With a commitment to Ave Maria University — an NAIA-level Catholic college in southwest Florida in between Naples and Fort Myers — after his junior seiason, Pimentel decided to work on his body to get it ready for the next level rather than play for the Gaels.
“It was the toughest thing in the world because I love all my teammates,” Pimentel said. “I know I would’ve helped them. But there were going to be a lot of people on the team. Practice is what makes you a good player, and I wasn’t going to get my reps. I needed to work on my game and redefine myself.”
Pimentel, who will turn 19 next month, gained 10 pounds of muscle, going from 185 to 195, and hopes to play at 200 pounds for Ave Maria.
He is a 6-foot-1 middle infielder who can also pitch, and has great speed on the bases, as he shaved his 60-yard dash time down to “6.5 or 6.6” from 6.8 by running sprints up hills. Pimentel, who projects himself as a leadoff hitter, said the time away from baseball was “like having two offseasons,” and he was able to get to the gym more often than usual.
But when he told his college coaches he would not be playing for Iona Prep his senior year, it surprised them.
“It kind of caught us off-guard, but he was doing what he thought would help him at the next level,” said Ave Maria head coach Shawn Summe. “I don’t encourage recruits to do that. But he’s a tremendous athlete and a great kid with great character. Christian has the potential to be the centerpiece of our recruiting class.”
Pimentel began playing in the North Riverdale Baseball League when he was 5 and also played basketball at the YMCA. He began school ball as a freshman at Iona Prep.
He has continued to play baseball this summer for the Select team of Tigers Sports Clubs of New Rochelle, a travel team that competes mostly up and down the East Coast. He will play with them until he has to report to Ave Maria next month. He has played in showcases in Georgia, Maine, North and South Carolina, the Jersey shore and even a pre-draft tournament in Iowa. And his parents have been with him all along the way.
Dr. Luisa Perez-Pimentel, a physician of internal medicine with two offices in Kingsbridge, and Jose Pimentel, who owns his own management company, have the freedom to travel to Christian’s games.
Sometimes his older sister Julissa, a 25-year-old who graduated from the David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy (M.S./H.S. 141) and now works in fashion, will come. Sometimes Perez-Pimentel’s mother will join them. Yoshi, the dog, recently took a trip to Cleveland. And when Pimentel’s team was in West Palm Beach, Fla., his aunts and cousins joined the party.
As for what drew her son to baseball, Perez-Pimentel said, “We’re Dominicans, so most Dominican kids play baseball.”
She and her husband travel to the tournaments independent of the teams. Some may view this type of attitude toward baseball as overbearing parents trying to push their son to the major leagues, but Perez-Pimentel said that is not the case.
“These are our vacations,” she said. “We don’t see it as investing in baseball. We just like watching the games, and it keeps him safe, active and physically fit.”
“Some people think their son is going to be a major league player, but no, we just love the sport. Life has been fun for him,” she added.
And when asked about the travel costs associated with their many stops across the country, Perez-Pimentel said, “We don’t even think about the money part. Thank God we don’t have money problems. We’re not strained.”
Jose Pimentel played center field at George Washington High School and his wife played center field on the school’s softball team, which is how they met. Despite his baseball acumen, Jose decided to get his son a trainer, Hector Tatis, a former coach of the Newark Bears, at age 10.
Christian has been honing his game for many years, and Jose said the new coaches at Iona tried to change the way he played. They also barred him from playing in outside tournaments.
“Christian didn’t like the setup,” Jose said.
Not being around the game also gave Christian his first taste of life without baseball.
“It actually scared me a little bit because it gave me the first feeling of what it was like to not play anymore,” he said. “But I got to do a lot of community service and I felt like I finally got to experience the whole school. But still, it was really awkward. To keep playing, you have to continue to play well.”
Christian knows exactly how many days are left before he has to report to Ave Maria. And while he will be on his own, he feels he can succeed.
“It’s always tough when they’re not there,” he said about his parents, “but the school is small, and there aren’t too many distractions.”
Summe feels Christian will be mature, even as a freshman.
“The first thing that struck me about Christian was how he carried himself,” the coach said. “I met him in the hotel the day before a tournament, and the way he introduced himself really caught my attention. He’s very mature, and he has all the tools and abilities baseball-wise. We’re real excited to have him.”