Baseball’s new skipper charts a winning course

Gino DiMare took the reins as head baseball coach in June 2018.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Gino DiMare took the reins as head baseball coach in June 2018.

Baseball’s new skipper charts a winning course

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
Gino DiMare, who took the reins as head coach last summer, has skippered a major turnaround in the program, which now sits poised to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in two years.

Never one who takes a loss lightly, Miami Hurricanes baseball coach Gino DiMare was a bit upset early Tuesday as his team prepared to return to Coral Gables after losing 9-7 to Wake Forest the night before.

Miami had taken two out of three from the Demon Deacons during the three-game away series. But in Monday’s finale, they faltered, squandering a two-run lead in the eighth inning and their chance to secure first place in the ACC Coastal Division.

“Right now, I’m hurting a little bit,” said DiMare. “We lost a tough game we felt we should have won. I’ve always had trouble letting go of losses. I’ve got a day at least to fly back and forget about this one.”

Forgetting about losses is something DiMare hasn’t had to do much of this season. His team, ranked as high as No. 12 in one poll released earlier this week, is 36-16 heading into today’s three-game series against conference rival Duke at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. The ACC tournament lies ahead, and, more importantly, a berth in the NCAA regionals, which Miami has missed the last two seasons, is a lock.

Shades of the Amazin’ Mets? Call it what you will. But what is not up for debate is that Miami baseball has experienced a 180-degree turnaround since DiMare took the reins as head coach last summer. And the longtime ’Cane, many agree, is the reason behind the program’s rejuvenation and return to relevance.

“The last couple of years have been very tough on everybody,” said DiMare. “When school started last fall, we wanted to set the tone that this was not acceptable, and the players all bought into it. The culture has changed, and I like the mentality of this team.”

It is unlike any squad DiMare has ever coached—a roster devoid of seniors but chock-full of freshmen and sophomores. “It’s going to be a strange final week of the season,” he said, noting that the team will have no Senior Day.

But these baby-faced ’Canes have stepped up to the proverbial plate, scoring runs and belting homeruns at an incredible clip—five homers in its Saturday victory over Wake Forest, four against UCF a few days earlier.

“We are young in terms of age, but they’re mature on the field and very tough mentally,” explained DiMare. “I think our freshman class is as good a character of a team that we’ve had here in a long time. I love seniors because they bring experience and leadership. But as a coach, you like to have young guys who are learning your philosophy right from the get-go.”

That philosophy is built around what DiMare calls “the Miami way.”

“Everything we do matters, whether it’s on the field, off the field, or in the classroom. That’s the first thing I told our players,” he said. “There have been a lot of great teams and coaches who came way before us and got this thing going. There’s a lot of pride in this program, just like in our football program, and I’ve got a lot of it in me. The hope is that it translates down to everybody else.”

Along with infusing that philosophy, DiMare and his coaching staff have instituted changes in just about every facet of the team. “How we lift. How we practice. How we eat,” he said. “This program needed a jolt, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

If anyone is familiar with the “Miami way” it is DiMare. From 1989 to 1992, he was an outfielder for legendary UM baseball skipper Ron Fraser, who led Miami to two College World Series titles, and he coached for many years under Jim Morris, who also won a pair of national championships.

But DiMare has never been intimidated by the fact that he is following in the footsteps of two Miami baseball icons. “I don’t go to bed at night thinking about that. If I did, I wouldn’t be very good,” he said. “I have to do the best job I can do and know that I’m giving everything I can to help this program be where we want it to be.”

He stepped into his role months before UM’s football program hired its new coach, Manny Diaz. And while the gridiron ’Canes have dominated the headlines even as their season has yet to begin, it is DiMare and UM baseball that have quietly gone about winning in stellar fashion, climbing higher and higher in the polls and inching closer to postseason play.

DiMare had actually never thought about becoming a coach until his playing days in Major League Baseball came to an end. After his last year in the Boston Red Sox farm system, his former high school baseball coach at Miami Westminster Christian asked him to join the team as an assistant coach, and he took the job, helping to lead the squad to the 1996 USA Today National Championship.

Then, Hurricanes baseball came calling. Morris, who had become head coach in 1994, wanted him on his squad. “He liked guys who had played here and understood the Miami way,” said DiMare.

All told, DiMare has more than 20 years of experience under his belt with Miami baseball, as a player and coach. He was part of Morris’s 1999 and 2001 College World Series-winning coaching staffs, and he helped bring in and mentor such players as Yonder Alonso, Ryan Braun, Jon Jay, Gaby Sanchez, and Jemile Weeks, all of whom went on to play in the Bigs.

Today, DiMare considers himself fortunate to lead the Hurricanes baseball team, calling it his “dream job.” But it might not ever have happened had it not been for that one day in the spring after a high school baseball practice. DiMare’s father approached him and told him that then-UM coach Fraser wanted to meet Gino and offer him a spot on the Hurricanes’ roster.

“I was supposed to fly out to LSU the next day for an official visit with [former Tigers coach] Skip Bertman. But my dad told me, ‘You’re not flying to LSU. You’re going to sign with Miami.’ ” And he did.

“I didn’t know it then,” recalled DiMare, “but when I signed with the Hurricanes as an 18-year-old kid, that was the turning point in my life. Bertman was angry. But I got over it quickly, and I’m sure he did, too.”

DiMare would go on to compile a .290 batting average, stealing 93 bases over a 243-game collegiate career at UM.

He was known for his hustle. In a home game against Cal-Berkeley, he collided with teammate Frank Mora as the two players went after a fly ball. Mora took the worst of it, suffering a compound fracture of his left leg. “His bone to this day still sticks out at the shin,” said DiMare, who came away with bruised ribs in the collision. To this day, the two have remained close friends.

Now, DiMare is infusing his passion for the game in his players.

“He brings a lot of energy,” said pitcher Evan McKendry. “He’s been preaching that we need to get better every day, and that’s what keeps us going.”

Said catcher Michael Amditis, “He expects us to play at a level where this team needs to be. I think we’re on the right track. There’s a ways to go, but we’re excited to see what this team can do in the postseason.”