LOS ANGELES -- This wasn’t the way Cathi Dietrich thought she would be spending Mother’s Day this year. But she’s not complaining.
“Best Mother’s Days gift ever,” she said as her and her husband Rich, daughter Dawn, and new son-in-law Frank watched her son field grounders before Saturday night’s game at Dodger Stadium.
“Derek’s floating on a cloud right now. And so are we.”
For Derek Dietrich, who was called up by the Marlins on Wednesday to play second base after a rash of injuries to others, his first week in the big leagues almost deserves its own Hollywood movie.
Woken up by a phone call at 1:50 a.m. from his Double A manager and flown cross-country to start for the Marlins less than 12 hours later, Dietrich singled to right in his first at-bat. On Friday, he crushed his first major-league home run, a three-run shot that tied the game in the fourth inning and helped the Marlins pull off their largest come-from-behind win of the season.
“I had tears in my eyes I was so happy,” his father said.
“We both lost our voice screaming as we watched it in the car driving over,” said Dawn, Derek’s sister. “We know grandpa loved it, too.”
Grandpa, Cathi’s father, was former pro baseball player Steve Demeter, who passed away in February. Known mostly for being involved in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, a straight-up 1960 deal that sent him from Detroit to Cleveland for first baseman Norm Cash, Demeter played in the minors for 19 years and was an eight-time All-Star. He was also a huge inspiration for Dietrich.
When Dietrich was acquired by the Marlins in the Yunel Escobar trade with the Rays in December, the family was back home together in Parma, a suburb of Cleveland for the funeral of Rich’s mother.
“He was so elated by the trade and so was my dad,” Cathi said. “From the moment he went to spring training it felt it was meant to be.”
Dietrich, a former second-round pick who played in just 62 games at the Double A level before his big-league call up, was hoping to make it to the majors before his grandfather passed. But Demeter lost his battle with heart disease right before Dietrich reported for spring training.
One of the last times Demeter got to see his grandson play in person was in 2010 when he gave him a pep talk before one of his first minor-league games with Hudson Valley of the New York Penn League.
“Dad talked to him before that game and Derek ended up hitting his first homer that night,” Cathi said. “When he went out to play defense, he tipped his hat to him. Grandpa kept up with him everywhere after that.”
When Dietrich went up for his final at-bat in his first game Wednesday, the Jumbotron screen at Petco Park flashed a fun fact that brought a smile to his face. It read: “Derek Dietrich is the grandson of former major leaguer Steve Demeter.”
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Cathi said. “At the same time I was happy because I think his legacy can live on through Derek’s baseball playing.”
Dawn, who now lives in Dallas with her husband and spent 22 years as a professional ice skater, has always been a big supporter of her brother throughout his playing career. She helped coach his first T-ball team with her father and still sends her brother inspirational text messages before each game.
The Marlins still aren’t sure where Dietrich will play long term — he could end up at second or third base. But it seems the lessons he learned at a young age helped him.
“One of my first memories of Derek — he used to played shortstop. But when the ball would come to the other kids and they weren’t paying attention he would run to get the ball and then cover all the bases,” Dawn said. “It came in handy I guess.”
Cathi and Rich were originally scheduled to fly back to their home in Cleveland on Sunday morning, but Derek insisted they stay in town so the family can be together. Derek has a special Mother’s Day gift for Cathi: the game ball from his first home run.
“Derek’s just having the time of his life with the boys,” Cathi said. “When he came on the early bus [Friday] he was just standing out there during batting practice and told me, ‘Mom I’m in Dodger Stadium. I can’t believe it.’
“Like I said, best Mother’s Day gift ever.”