North Meck’s Dimino has the tools to achieve team, his own goals

by Chris Hunt

North Mecklenburg High School’s Anthony Dimino always seems to have a baseball bat in his hands.

When not in the field, Dimino rarely sits down on the dugout bench before his turn at the plate. The Viking senior can often be found near the dugout entrance, softly rocking back and fourth to the rhythm of his swing. Sometimes, he picks up his favorite bat four or five spots before his turn in the lineup, eagerly anticipating his chance to dig into the batter’s box.

Dimino just really loves to hit a baseball.

“Even around the house,” Dimino said, “I pick up my bat and start swinging it.”

Once in the batter’s box, Dimino does everything he can to squash any pent-up energy. Just like many baseball players, Dimino has his rituals to clear his mind. He tugs on his batting gloves and scratches a mysterious letter in the dirt with his bat. He repeats the routine before each pitch.

What letter does he write in the ground?

That’s between Dimino and the batter’s box. He refused to share the meaning of his at-bat habit and coyly said it simply relaxes him before he turns his attention to the pitcher.

Superstitious or not, it’s hard to argue with Dimino’s results. For the past two seasons, the slugger has been one of the toughest outs in the Viking lineup. As a junior, Dimino was named to the I-MECK 4A all-conference team, and he’s working on another standout campaign this spring. He credits his success at the plate to having a clear head before each at-bat.

“I try to think as little as possible when I’m up there,” said Dimino. “Hitting a baseball that small is hard enough with a bat that skinny. I only think about stuff in the dug out.”

Playing with an uncluttered mind is one of the many pieces of advice his father, Tony, passed on to him. The elder Dimino learned a thing or two about hitting as a player in the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins minor-league baseball systems. Dimino said his father taught him everything about swinging a baseball bat. Dimino’s quick hands at the plate are the envy of opponents and teammates alike.

“Anthony has good, quick hands,” said North Mecklenburg baseball coach Trevin Smith. “It’s hard to get a baseball by him – it doesn’t matter if a kid throws it 65 or 95 miles per hour. He can recognize the pitch, wait on it and hit it.

“You can’t teach quick hands.”

Dimino has put his skills to good use, clearing the .400 batting average barrier the past two seasons. He’s also secured a partial baseball scholarship to the University of South Carolina Upstate after turning down Division I programs Hawaii, Army, High Point and Dayton. USC Upstate offered Dimino the best scholarship package. Dimino added that competing against big-time programs on the Spartans’ schedule – such as ­Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina – was another attractive reason to head south in the fall.

Jack of all trades

On a cold, wet day at North Meck’s baseball park last week – nothing quite like the warm images described in John Fogerty’s baseball anthem “Centerfield” – Dimino was front and center to take fly balls off the bat of the Viking coaching staff. Smith said Dimino’s always first in line, regardless of the practice drill. But on this day, it seemed odd watching Dimino chase down fly balls. After all, he made the 2010 all-conference team as an infielder, not an outfielder.

Turns out, it was a wise decision to take in some outfield practice.

On April 4 against rival Hopewell, Smith penciled Dimino in at right field, his fourth position this season. Smith was hoping to shake up the lineup after a hard-to-swallow 18-2 loss to Mooresville on March 29, only the Vikings’ third loss in their first 10 games. Smith didn’t have a player targeted when he shuffled positions; he was just trying to give the team a fresh look.

Smith wanted to beef up the outfield play and had seen enough in practice to declare Dimino one of the best outfielders on the team, even though he hadn’t played the position this year until the Hopewell game. Dimino took the position change in stride, showcasing pin-point accuracy during warm-up throws to the plate. After all, it wasn’t the first time he had to learn a position on the fly.

Dimino has also pitched and played shortstop, but he’s mostly donned catcher’s gear this spring. Smith is a big believer that a team’s leader should play behind the plate. The Vikings’ skipper also knew that Dimino’s reliable glove and laser arm could handle the position change. It was only after the season started that Smith learned Dimino played the position before high school.

“Anthony’s the ultimate competitor,” said Smith. “I took a gamble his senior year – when he was supposed to play shortstop – and told him to play catcher. He just asked me where the shin guards were.”

Dimino’s versatility should bode well at USC Upstate. He hopes it will give him a chance to play often as a freshman. Until then, he’s focused on taking back the conference championship for North Meck, which hasn’t won the title since 2008, when it shared the honor with three-time defending champion Hopewell. Just as annoying to Dimino is the fact that he’s also never been a part of a victory over the Titans in a varsity baseball game, a streak extended into his third year of varsity after Hopewell’s 5-2 victory on April 4.

The Viking has one last chance on April 29 when his team hosts Hopewell.

“We’ve had them down five runs in the seventh and lost,” he said. “We’ve got them one more time at home. It’s one of the things I want to do here before I leave – that and win the conference championship.”

And, of course, he’d like to swing a bat a few more times, too.