March 28, 2008

Experienced Di Ricco Excels in Leadoff Role

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On the baseball team, junior returning starter Dom Di Ricco is known as “Little Guy,” not for his physical size but for his home run-lacking style at the plate.
“This fall, when we would take batting practice, we would have silent competitions between [sophomore] Nate David and I,” Di Ricco said. “[David] refers to himself as Baby Bash … and I’m just Little Guy. … I tried to add a little power [in the offseason], but that didn’t work too well. I’m just a scrappy leadoff hitter. I love it. I get dirty every game, trying to slide everywhere.”
“My first outfit, when I was a baby and came home,” Di Ricco added, “had a baseball and bats on it, courtesy of my father. But the first time I picked up a bat, I believe I was three years old and threw a ball to myself, hit it and ran around the house.”
Going from baby baseball gear to carnelian and white, the left fielder and leadoff batter is still running all over the place. He led the team last year with 31 runs scored, in addition to tallying an 8-of-9 success rate for stolen base attempts and a team-high 25 walks.
Growing up, the Portola Valley, Calif. native didn’t have to look far to find a role model who matched his down-and-dirty approach to the game. Though the San Francisco Giants were the inspiration for that first little outfit, Di Ricco is actually a fan of Oakland because of that one player: 1998 Athletics draft pick Eric Byrnes.
A family friend, the Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder grew up in nearby Redwood City, Calif. Though he had been drafted out of high school, Byrnes finished college before Oakland selected him 10 years ago.
“I’ve always tried to model my game after him,” Di Ricco said, “so that really made me attracted to the A’s that they gave him a shot. Maybe one day they’ll give me a shot. That’s how I look at it.”
Di Ricco’s career is based on a mentality of hard work. His current skill set was not always the case. In high school, he batted third and fifth in the lineup. With hard work and extra conditioning over vacation last year, helped by a trainer, Di Ricco “got fast over Winter Break.” He returned to Ithaca about four-tenths of a second faster and ready to be the leadoff.
And even though he is the little guy now, Di Ricco has beaten out stronger hitters before. Classmate Nathan Ford, for example, is the Red’s current go-to power hitter and was recruited as a catcher.
He is also a fellow Northern Californian. As well as going to elementary and middle school with Di Ricco, they attended the same church and competed on the baseball field.
Ford clearly remembers once losing the starting job behind the plate on a Little League All-Star team — the player who beat him out was none other than Di Ricco. Even though it is unusual for a lefty to man the plate, southpaw Di Ricco got the spot, and Ford had to play second base instead.
Nowadays, Di Ricco is content to fill the position of team veteran and speed demon.
“I like to think of the leadoff job as the setup man who steals second and then gets knocked in by his teammates,” he said. “So the better I get at that job, I hope the better the team will be. … Last year I was still … kind of earning my role on the team. I feel like this year I [already] proved myself, and now it’s up to me to take more of a leadership role. We still have our captains, but I try and be the silent leader.”
Ford described Di Ricco as a “split personality,” serious whenever he’s on the field but jokes around in the locker room and generally outside of baseball.
This can be seen best in the intensity which Di Ricco focuses on the superstitions he forces himself to follow. Even he is amazed at the sheer number of compulsions in order to maintain his success on the field, from the way he puts on his socks to his energy drink regimen during games to his pre-game playlist.
“Over the spring trip, I wasn’t able to listen to my music one of the days,” he said. “I have to admit, I ended up going 3-for-3, so it might have disproved everything I believe in.”