About a year ago, Gino DiMare was at a meeting with then head baseball coach Jim Morris and several administrators from the University of Miami.
DiMare, at that point the UM baseball coach-in-waiting, rattled off to his bosses what he would need as far as facilities in the years to come. “He said, ‘I gotta have this and this and this and this,’’’ Morris said of DiMare, who will coach his first game as the head man on Feb. 15 in the season’s home opener against Rutgers. “I know it’s tough,’’ Morris recalled DiMare saying, “but I’m following two legends, not one.’’
After playing for the first legend, Ron Fraser, as a standout outfielder in the late 1980s and early 1990s and coaching with the second legend, Morris, as his top assistant from 1997 to 2018 — not including a three-year sabbatical — DiMare finally gets to lead the program he has loved since he was a tow-headed grade-schooler playing catch with his three older brothers by what was once the aluminum bleachers at Mark Light Field.
“I grew up in this ballpark,’’ said DiMare, 49, from his office overlooking the updated Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field complex that produced national championship teams in 1982, 85, 99 and 2001. “I’m as ready to be a head coach as any assistant could be.’’
DiMare was born in South Miami Hospital, starred at Miami Westminster Christian in baseball, football and basketball and has been as patient as any man who has waited nearly half his life for his dream job. But now that the job is his, he is driven to bring back the championship-caliber Hurricanes that have melted into mediocrity the past two depressing seasons after snapping in 2017 their national-record streak of 44 consecutive NCAA regionals.
The unranked Hurricanes, who finished 28-26 in 2018 and still haven’t gotten back to the NCAA tournament, need DiMare’s fervor to rejuvenate a program that draws elite athletes but has fallen behind state rivals Florida State (43-19) and Florida (49-21). His challenge is immense, which is exactly what the work-immersed, cerebral, relentless DiMare welcomes.
“He’s fiery, he’s high energy, he wants thing done and he wants them done now,’’ said UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga, who also went to Miami Westminster and is entering his 17th year on the coaching staff. “He’s a very hard worker and we’re trying to do as much as we can every second of the day, every minute of practice.’’
Fellow assistant Norberto Lopez, UM’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator who also coaches the catchers, described DiMare as “a guy that’s very passionate about doing things right and making sure we’re on top of things. He’s very serious. Everything matters. Everything.’’
DiMare, who played in two College World Series and has been to many more, is the former UM recruiting coordinator and hitting coach who helped mold future major league stars such as Yonder Alonso, Ryan Braun, Yasmani Grandal, Gaby Sanchez, Zack Collins and Jon Jay — among many others.
Jay is the Miami native who had an exceptional career with the Hurricanes, went on to win the World Series in 2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals and recently signed a one-year contract to play for the Chicago White Sox. He is still close with DiMare, who chose him to speak Friday night at UM’s First Pitch Banquet.
“First of all he’s an unbelievable person who truly cares,’’ Jay told the Miami Herald this week of his former hitting coach. “That’s something I saw from him when I first stepped on campus. It was obvious how much he loved the University of Miami and how much he loves family. Just an all-around good guy and great role model.
“This program drove my work ethic to the next level, and Gino had a lot to do with that. He demanded you give 110 percent at practice. He held everyone accountable, no matter if you were the superstar or a walk-on.
“The first guy to congratulate you with a hug and the first one to let you know you did something wrong.’’
Jay, who hit .368 at UM in 2004, .408 in 2005 and has a major-league career .285 average, said he still incorporates what he learned from DiMare in his preparation. “To do this day I use what he taught us as part of my routine — hitting left-handed breaking balls, hitting right-handed breaking balls, working on the two-strike approach in the cage. He just gave me a really good blueprint for my career, and taught me to be the outfielder I am today.’’
DiMARE’S PLAYING CAREER
DiMare had a career batting average of .290 with the Hurricanes, and ranks among UM’s leaders in games played (243) and stolen bases (93). He led Miami with a .353 batting average in 1991 and signed as a free agent with the Red Sox in the summer of 1992. But he never got past the high-A Florida State League after a torn rotator cuff curtailed his career as a UM junior. He waited to have surgery until after his junior season, but he said he could barely throw anymore and the pain got worse.
“If anybody ever watched me play, the fans would boo me when I threw,’’ he said with a smile of his last years with UM. “I basically lobbed it.”
Former UM associate athletic director/external operations Jim Frevola recalled a day he was broadcasting a game as a UM student for school radio station WVUM when DiMare “went all out for a fly ball slamming into a wall and puncturing his lung.”
“Came back and played shortly after,’’ Frevola said. “He’s a Cane! Gino is ready. The guy was a warrior as a player.’’
DiMare acknowledges that the past two years of UM baseball were demoralizing and unacceptable, and that frankly, watching the Canes play was often painful. UM’s hitting has been poor, averaging .231 in 2017 and .257 in 2018. The life was gone.
“We didn’t play very inspiring baseball,’’ DiMare said. “It didn’t look like we were out there playing hard or with energy or passion. We certainly didn’t swing the bat and score runs and that hurt. When you’re losing it beats up on you.
“I am trying to get the culture back to the way we used to have it, get this program to where when people come in here they’re intimidated. We’ve changed a lot of things, the way we prepare before practice, in terms of how guys are hitting, doing different drills, doing more things in the cages. We’re hitting a lot more than we ever have.
“Infield wise we’re going to play a lot more shifts. We’re preparing to move forward in every situation.’’
DiMare’s expectation is “to win national championships” with an amazingly young team that has no seniors, only seven juniors and will lean heavily on a strong pitching staff, including 6-3, 200-pound, right-handed ace Evan McKendry; incoming right-handed freshman Slade Cecconi, a 6-4, 212-pound elite recruit who was rated the No. 79 overall draft prospect by Baseball America but chose to play at Miami instead of signing with the Baltimore Orioles; and 6-1, 210-pound, left-handed freshman JP Gates, who posted a 1.05 ERA with 135 strikeouts over 80 innings at Brooksville Nature Coast, and is expected to begin the year as UM’s closer.
“We’re going to be very, very high energy,’’ DiMare said. “I don’t know how we’ll end up, but I know we’re not going to play uninspired.’’
DiMare, married to Coral Park High and FIU alum Denise, is the father of four daughters: Nicolette, 13; Gianna, 11; Giselle, 9; and Gina, 6. They, too, have grown up at Mark Light Field and come to the games with their mom and grandfather, Paul DiMare, 77, a nationally known, highly successful tomato grower who still runs the DiMare Company and Dimare Fresh, Inc.
DiMare’s mother, Carole, who kept a photo of her sons by those aluminum Mark Light bleachers, died from ALS in 2011.
Paul DiMare has given millions of dollars to the South Florida community, including Fairchild Tropical Gardens, the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis/Buoniconti Fund, the Red Cross, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, Vizcaya and UM — the baseball, football and basketball programs among other areas.
“Gino was a dominating kid from the time he was 5 years old at K-Land Park on Kendall Drive,’’ Paul DiMare said. “He stood out. He did everything right. He was always positive and thought he could do anything. I used to take him every weekend to those parks where they raced bicycles around a track and he won every race he was in.
“But he hated to lose. He believed you have to have it in your heart to find a legitimate way to win. When he lost he just got tougher.’’
DiMare took three years off from coaching after the 2008 season to help with the family business and spend more time with his wife and children. “I was a new father and I had two little ones and another on the way,’’ he said. “For me it was the right time to step away.’’
But he missed the grind and returned before the 2012 season.
When asked if he was concerned that people would think his influence in the UM community and beyond helped his son land the coaching job, Paul DiMare, a UM Board of Trustees member, said, “If they do, they don’t know the background, they don’t know the person, they don’t know the ability of my son. My feeling is you earn what you get. He certainly has earned everything he’s gotten at UM.’’
MORRIS WILL WATCH
Former coach Morris believes that, too. Morris, who was 1090-472-3 with the Hurricanes while leading them to 13 College World Series berths and two national titles in 25 years, will have his jersey retired March 8 and added to the new padded outfield fence that now displays all UM’s players who have had their numbers retired, as well as the four national title years.
Morris will be at UM’s games this season. He, more than anyone, knows that DiMare has paid his dues.
“Gino’s heart is here,’’ Morris said. “He played here. I never had a coach who worked harder than Gino and never had a coach who took losing worse than Gino.
“The expectations will go with Gino, but he’s ready.’’