Coconut Grove

Student makes All-Dade baseball team, like dad did 30 years ago

The newspaper page that chronicled one of Mandy Canino’s big baseball achievements has long since turned a shade of brown.

But 30 years later, his son and only child, Nick Canino, has matched his feat, earning first-team All-Dade honors.

The similarities between the two are striking:

• Mandy, now 48, was a shortstop and pitcher for Jackson High, making the Miami Herald’s 1984 All-Dade team as a utility player.

• Nick, 18, was a shortstop and pitcher for LaSalle, making the Herald’s 2014 team as a utility player.

Both became full-time varsity starters as sophomores.

“I was super excited to find out I had made All-Dade,” said Nick, who recently graduated from LaSalle. “My dad always wanted me to accomplish more than what he did.”

Nick, who has earned a baseball scholarship to Virginia Tech, appears to be well on his way to making that wish a reality.

Mandy probably had the better overall high school career, but he only played one year of college — at Miami Dade North — and went undrafted and unsigned by the pros.

As a junior, he led Jackson to the 1983 Class 4A state semifinals, pitching 34 of the team’s 37 playoff innings in a span of eight days.

“If you did that today, you’d probably need Tommy John surgery right away,” Nick said, speaking in admiration of his dad.

Added Mandy: “That was in the days before pitch counts.”

A new rule was created in time for his senior year that restricted the number of innings any one player could pitch.

Mandy still had a big senior year, hitting .397 and compiling a 10-4 record as a pitcher, leading Jackson to the Region 8-4A title game.

Nick’s LaSalle team was not as successful as his father’s at Jackson. LaSalle went 13-13 last season, but Nick hit .432 and stole 17 bases. He struck out just three times and made only one error. He also made two pitching appearances, making one save.

For his high school career, Nick hit .409 and set the school record with 28 doubles.

Each player had his strengths and weaknesses.

Mandy, who now designs and manufactures automotive rims and wheels, was bigger than his son, playing at 5-11 and 170 pounds. He had more power and was a better pitcher.

Nick, a 5-9, 155-pounder, is faster, a better hitter for average and is the stronger defensive player.

“I’ve never seen a kid have better (defensive) instincts than Nick,” said Oscar Benitez, who was LaSalle’s head coach for the past 15 years. “There was a game against Doral Academy when Nick started moving up the middle before the pitch, and I’m saying: ‘What is he doing?’

“But the ball was hit to the other side of second base, and Nick got there and threw him out. It was the greatest play I’ve seen in my life.”

Nick is used to making big catches – he spear-fishes in his spare time. His love for the ocean has him considering a major in marine engineering.

Water sports won’t be part of his agenda at Virginia Tech. But Benitez believes Nick can start as a freshman shortstop, and he would be doing so next to another LaSalle grad, Virginia Tech veteran second baseman Alex Perez.

“Nick has a great feel for the game,” Benitez said of Canino, who has a 3.1 grade-point average. “He plays better than his natural tools. He’s not too big, his power is OK, and he is not particularly fast.

“But it’s like he can read minds on the field. He’s never out of position.”

Nick said he has long been aware of his father’s prowess on the field. He was born, he said, with a ball in his hands.

As a child, he saw his dad’s trophies and All-Dade honors every time he went to his grandparents’ house.

Nick said his father coached him until the sixth grade.

“He taught me the fundamentals,” Nick said. “He would take me to Grapeland Park, and I enjoyed bonding with him.”

Mandy, who is louder and more talkative than his son, is proud of Nick.

“He made All-Dade, and he deserved it,” Mandy said. “You can’t teach what he has – his hands, that defense. I had to work for it, but Nick is a natural.”

Benitez, who saw Mandy play and coached Nick, said the younger Canino would be the obvious choice on defense.

“Nick’s father was very good,” Benitez said. “He could pitch and play short and had a lot of power. But there’s no chance he could play shortstop like Nicky – not even close.”