Gino DiMare on first game as Miami coach: ‘It feels very normal’
Friday was strange for Gino DiMare. It wasn’t because his whole family went out to the mound at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Stadium to throw out the first pitch before the Miami Hurricanes’ season-opener. It wasn’t because he was introduced by the public address announcer as Miami’s coach for the first time. He didn’t even feel particularly out of place writing up the Hurricanes’ lineup before their 19-3 rout of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
What really felt strange to Gino DiMare was how not strange the whole thing felt.
“It’s kind of weird. It feels very normal for me,” DiMare said at his postgame press conference Friday in Coral Gables. “I can’t explain it. People keep asking me how come you’re—this has like been my home for so long, it’s just normal. I just happen to be the guy writing the lineup.”
The DiMare era began with fireworks Friday. The new coach, who replaced Jim Morris after the former coach retired in the offseason following 25 seasons with the Hurricanes, was introduced without much fanfare to an ovation of 2,785 fans at Mark Light Field, then handed the ball to Evan McKendry. After a 1-2-3 inning for the righthanded pitcher, Miami’s lineup made the rest of the day easy for McKendry and DiMare. Led by two doubles and a home run from Freddy Zamora, the Hurricanes (1-0) erupted for 19 hits, seven of which went for extra bases, to open DiMare’s first season with a lopsided win.
It was exactly the sort of start Miami — and DiMare — needed in 2019. The Hurricanes missed the NCAA tournament for the second straight season in 2018, finishing thee year at No. 210 in the nation in batting average. DiMare, who has been in charge of the Hurricanes’ offense for most of his time on the coaching staff, needed his offense to improve for Miami to end a rare postseason drought.
Fittingly, the former hitting coach spent the offseason emphasizing offense. The Hurricanes dedicated a larger percentage of practice time to swinging their bats. They enlisted help from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of Miami’s medical school, to train their hitters eyes. They placed an emphasis upon attacking fastballs.
It all paid off against Rutgers. After McKendry’s 1-2-3 inning, infielder Anthony Vilar drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the first. Five pitches later, Zamora laced a double to left field and sent Vilar home to give Miami a 1-0 lead. McKendry (1-0) set the Scarlet Knights (0-1) down in order again in the second, then the Hurricanes exploded. Infielder Willy Escala drove in a pair with a one-out triple, then outfielder Tony Jenkins knocked him home with a single and Vilar scored Jenkins with a double. Still with one out, Zamora delivered the big blow. Serafino Brito hung a pitch in the top of the zone and Zamora unloaded to send the first homer of the season over the scoreboard in left field and give Miami a 7-0 lead. The Hurricanes chased Brito (0-1) after only two innings, scoring seven runs against the righthanded pitcher.
In 2018, Miami didn’t have a game with double-digit runs until April 13. In 2019, Miami needed less than three innings and finished with its most runs since 2015, when the Hurricanes had the best offense in the country.
“The atmosphere around Opening Day is tremendous,” Zamora said at his postgame press conference. “The fans come out and support us, so we wanted to get off on a good note offensively, set a tone for the rest of the season. I think we did a great job.”
From there, Miami could coast. Zamora ripped another double in the third inning as the Hurricanes batted around for the second straight inning and stretched their lead to 12-0. Fellow infielder Alex Toral added another homer in the bottom of the sixth to push the lead back to 14-3. McKendry cruised through six innings, striking out eight and surrendering only two earned runs, then handed the ball fellow righthanded pitcher Gregory Veliz, who earned a save with three shutout innings.
“For some reason, I had a very calm feeling about everything — before the game, during the game, even now,” DiMare said. “I don’t know. My mind’s kind of like, This is the way we’re supposed to always play and hopefully we can continue to keep doing it.”s.