RCW: #OneTeam - Jeider Rincon
A junior transfer pitcher on the University of Kansas baseball team, Jeider Rincon is anything but a traditional student-athlete.
Born in Colombia and at the young age of seven years old, Rincon’s family was pulled apart due to political tensions in his home country. His father left Colombia for asylum in the United States in 2002, while Jeider did not reunite with his father until 2010. Joined by his younger sister in 2012, Rincon’s mother and older sister never left Colombia.
Relying on baseball to help him adapt to the culture in the U.S., Rincon continued to place a high value on his education – something stressed by his parents. He now is an example to his own son, as he continues to chase the American Dream through education and baseball, while also willing to work 12-hour shifts on an assembly line at a Tesla plant.
Q: When did you leave Colombia and come to the United States?
A: I came here in December of 2010, when I was 15. It was a (big) change (for me) coming to a new country without knowing the language and starting from scratch. I learned more from baseball than in the classroom when I was in high school. I learned more from baseball about the English-speaking environment since my high school was about 70 percent Latino. (In the beginning), I only knew basic English words like “hello” and “good.”
Q: Why did your family move to the U.S.?
A: My dad had to move to the States because he was involved in politics in Colombia. They wanted to kill him, so he had to talk to the government and get his visa and seek asylum to save his life. He came in 2002 and (wanted to bring my whole family) in 2003; my mom, my two sisters and me. At that point my mom didn’t want us to come here, she wanted us to stay back in Colombia. We had to wait seven years before my younger sister and I came to the States. She came in 2012. My mom and older sister are still back in Colombia.
Q: What was it like growing up with your dad in another country?
A: My mom was the type of person that cared about our futures. She was the one who got me involved in sports. In my country, people don’t want to go to school, they just want to do alcohol, drugs, things like that. One of the first things my dad told my mom was to find some activity that would keep me busy the whole day. That’s why she (got me) involved in baseball. It was hard not having my dad around, every time I’d go to the games and see other kids with both of their parents it would make it harder.
Q: Was there anyone who filled the fatherly role for you?
A: My mom mostly did. I did have a coach when I started in baseball, I’m good friends with him now. He kept in contact with me and would ask how I was doing. It was pretty cool to have a coach in my life who supported me the whole way.
Q: Now that you’re in the U.S., the situation has flipped. When have you last seen your mother and older sister?
A: The last time I saw them was the summer of 2013 when I went on vacation. It was three years after I came to the States, so it was good to go back home and spend time with them. Now it’s hard to go back there because it’s pretty expensive to get tickets. I miss (my mom) because she was with me for the 15 years that I lived there. I’m kind of used to being away from one parent or another.
Q: How do you stay in contact with your family?
A: We use phone calls a lot on this thing called Magic Jack. That’s the easiest way to communicate.
Q: What was your experience with athletics growing up?
A: I started with baseball, then got out and went to soccer for like a month. It wasn’t my sport, so I stayed with baseball (starting) when I was five until now. I liked how kids got more involved with it, it was more fun. By the time I was eight, I got really involved in it. It was my dream to be in the Major Leagues.
Q: How is the baseball in Colombia?
A: It is organized. It’s pretty different in the U.S., because in Colombia we don’t have school teams. It’s pretty much a club that has every age. I stayed in my club from the point I started my baseball career until I came to the U.S. They have different tournaments, including the Little League.
Q: Did you do any international travel during your baseball career in Colombia?
A: My first international tournament was when I was 12 years old, we went to Venezuela. My second one was when I was 15 right before I came to the U.S. It was in Guatemala.
Q: Did you get a good sense that baseball would open different doors for you to take?
A: Yes, the last tournament I played with the Colombian team in Guatemala, I was one year away from being eligible to be drafted in Colombia. I was in an academy with the Tampa Bay Rays. I had a coach who coached me in a tournament team who was a scout with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He offered to help me go to the Dominican Republic and do workouts for a year until I was able to sign. I always knew (I wanted) to come to the U.S., because I wanted to be with my dad.
Q: What were the biggest differences between baseball in Colombia and the U.S.?
A: When I came to the U.S., it was very stressful because at that point I was ready to sign. I noticed that when I came here it wasn’t the same. You had to go to school to be able to play sports. I was upset because I had already graduated from high school in Colombia, so I had to go back to high school for four more years.
Q: During your first few months in the U.S., did you ever think you made the wrong choice and wanted to return to Colombia?
A: No, I knew the United States had so many opportunities to continue my education and baseball career. I think that was the best choice I made in my life.
Q: Where did the drive to be educated come from?
A: My dad was always strict about getting an education because he had an opportunity to go to college but he decided he didn’t want to study and quit. He’s seen all of these down points in his life where he didn’t have a good job because he didn’t have any education. He’s trying to drive me toward getting my degree so I can get a good job and support my family.
Q: What was your dad’s adjustment to the U.S. like?
A: When he first came, he was in the east coast for a little bit and then he noticed that it wasn’t the best economy down there. He decided to move to Oakland and then San Jose where he found a good job helping janitors find jobs.
Q: Your first stop out of high school was the University of San Francisco. How did you end up there?
A: I had a couple of offers, I took the University of San Francisco’s because it was close to home. I played there for a year on a full-ride (scholarship). My pitching coach at the time, he was the one who recruited me, was fired after I finished my freshman year. He was the guy who set everything up for me, including housing, so when I came back for my sophomore year they told me they didn’t have the money for me to pay for housing. I couldn’t afford it on my own because San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. I talked to the coaches and told them I couldn’t afford to stay, so I ended up leaving and going to West Valley Community College (in Saratoga, California).
Q: What were your goals at West Valley Community College?
A: It was something that happened in the moment. I had a tough season in San Francisco, my son was born during that season. Everything was hard because I had to support my son and girlfriend. After San Francisco, the best thing to do was to find a job. My dad was going to support me but he couldn’t provide all the support I needed. I talked to one of my good high school friends and he went to West Valley. He gave me the coach’s number and I called him and told him everything that happened. I told him I wanted to give it another try and hopefully get drafted after that year. He told me to go there and they’d help me, so that’s why I went to West Valley.
Q: How did you feel about your lone season at West Valley?
A: I think I did well. We didn’t have the best defense and offense, but I was happy with what I did to help the team. When I had visited Kansas, I was told by a Cleveland Indians scout that there was a chance I could get drafted in the 30-37th rounds. I decided to give it another chance and come to Kansas.
Q: How did Coach Price find you?
A: The first time he saw me was the Arizona Fall Classic at the start of my senior year in high school. I had a lot of scouts looking at me and he thought I would get drafted out of high school, which is why he didn’t contact me at that point. After the year ended he got in contact with my West Valley coach and came down and saw me pitch. I was also talking to Oklahoma but I felt Coach Price was a good man and coach. I trusted everything that he said to me and decided to come here.
Q: This past summer you worked at a Tesla plant. How did that come about?
A: I got the job right after I was done with school. I worked for about two months at Tesla. It was good pay, $17 an hour for 12 hours a day. It wasn’t the best thing to experience but money-wise it was a good thing for me.
Q: How did you find out about that opportunity?
A: My dad had a friend at work who sent an email and I looked in to it. It was an agency that was finding workers to work for Tesla, so I went and talked to them then I went for an interview and got the job. I was working in the battery packing line. I was at the end of the line making sure everything was working well before they sent it to the leak section. It was very cool.
Q: Did you know anything about Tesla before you started?
A: I had no idea (about the company) when I started, but after working for the company I learned more things about the company.
Q: Do your teammates think it’s cool that you worked at Telsa?
A: Oh yeah they think it’s cool. Even one of my teachers this semester thinks it’s cool.
Q: How has the transition been from California to Kansas?
A: It’s a small town and it’s nice. Everything is quiet. The weather it’s… you know (laughs), it changes all the time so you don’t know what to expect on a daily basis but it’s been fine at this point.
Q: Have the other California guys helped you transition?
A: They’ve been great, they’ve been here two or three years and they all know the process. That helps because they tell me how things go here.
Q: How has your son, Jaden, changed you?
A: He’s the person who always gets me up and keeps me going at school and doing all of my business stuff. I just want to give him the best future and things I didn’t have, like having both of his parents together. I need to do my business, finish school and give him a better life.
Q: There’s a saying that to be a good baseball player you have to be able to forget the last play – to have a short-term memory. Being a normal college student who only goes to school and plays baseball that might be tough. Does Jaden help you forget that and comeback with a fresh mind?
A: Yeah, this year hasn’t been (as good) as I was hoping. Anytime I have a bad outing, I keep working hard and every time I go home, I talk with my girlfriend and she’s supported me the whole way and that’s kept me in the game this whole season.
Q: How has having your girlfriend, Amairany, move across five states with you helped?
A: It’s the best, she’s the best person to have by my side because she’s supported me through California and left family behind.
Q: When did you meet Amairany?
A: In high school.