Mother's Day twice as special for Mendez

Raised in harsh area of San Pedro, Texas pitcher benefited from strength of mom, grandmother

Mother's Day twice as special for Mendez

ARLINGTON -- Roman Mendez was 15 and had been kicked out of school for fighting. He lived in a gang-infested area of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

"Bad," Mendez said. "One of the worst in San Pedro."

His way out was baseball, and a number of Major League teams were willing to sign him once he turned 16. Mendez said a short prayer.

"Oh God, if you help me or somebody else helps me, I would sign and I will be different," Mendez prayed. "I will become a different person."

The Red Sox signed him and brought him to their academy. He noticed other players had brought their mothers to watch them. Mendez brought both his mother, Violeta Pimentel, and his maternal grandmother, Elena Pimentel.

"I wanted them to see that I was different," Mendez said.

They were the two strongest women in his life. His grandmother passed away last year, but his mother now lives in Texas with him during the season. His father, Roman Sr., remains at home in the Dominican Republic. The family has a new house away from the dangerous neighborhood, and his father no longer has to work.

"I told him I don't want him to work anymore," said Mendez, who was in the Rangers' Opening Day bullpen but was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock earlier this week.

Mother's Day is a time for children to celebrate and honor somebody special. Mendez has twice as many reasons to do so. When he looks back at his turbulent childhood, he realizes that he was lucky to have both his mother and grandmother watching over him.

"My mother has always supported me in everything I do," Mendez said. "If there is something wrong, she shows me what I am supposed to do. She was always looking out for me and was always there for me."

There were five children: two older daughters and two younger sons. They owned their home in Batey Porvenir, but Roman Sr. wasn't at home much. He worked at a resort in Punta Cana, about two hours east of San Pedro. He would work for 20 days and then be home for five.

Violeta had to raise the five children, and the middle one was the most difficult.

"It was tough because I was the one who was always in trouble," Mendez said. "I drove her crazy. I had a bad attitude. I fought a lot."

The reasons varied.

"I got in fights because I loved baseball and they didn't allow me to play," Mendez said. "I was one of the best, and if I hit someone, it would be dangerous. So they wouldn't let me play.

"One time, they wanted to suspend me for lifetime when I was 11. In our school, you have your seat. When I went to my place, if somebody was there -- they were older than me, they wanted to grab my seat just to make me mad -- I would fight with them. I wouldn't let them take my seat."

The phone calls came often from the school. "Come and get your son, he has been fighting again."

"The worst fight I had in school, I was 15 years old and playing basketball," Mendez said. "We were the younger ones, the older ones wouldn't let us play. They threw our basketball down so we couldn't play. That was our ball. We were playing on one side and the older ones were playing on the other side. They grabbed our basketball. So I grabbed their basketball and kicked it way far. I got a stick and broke a guy's hand."

Violeta's patience was tried, but her own mother was there to help. When Elena was around, Mendez behaved himself.

"I always respect my mom," Mendez said. "But when my grandmother came around, she would say, 'Would you go and take care of him?' Then I would be quiet. I wouldn't do anything when she was around.

"She would reprimand me and tell me what I was doing wrong."

It wasn't easy, not in a neighborhood where violent gangs were a part of life. With the help of Violeta and Elena, Mendez was able to stay clear.

"I never was part of those, but I had friends that were a part of it," Mendez said. "In our neighborhood, when the gangs came to fight in our place, I was always the one to tell my friends, 'Go home, get inside or we're going to get in trouble, somebody is going to get hurt.' I learned from my mother and grandmother."

That was quite a difference from the boy who was always fighting in school.

"You fight with your fists and hit somebody in the jaw," Mendez said. "In the neighborhood, you have to have guns. Not good. I had a lot of friends still in gangs, and some of them are dead."

Violeta made sure that never happened to Mendez.

"She was one of those moms that were strong," Mendez said. "They don't care what happens, they are always behind their kids. Some just leave the kids alone by themselves. They don't care. Some moms, you don't bring them money, they don't care.

"Not my mom. I drove her crazy, all the things I did. But when I [turned] 16 years old, I was able to show her I was a different person."

It was an answer to a prayer.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.