Royals

Rookie Nick Dini’s big day was crucial to Royals’ win in Baltimore

Baseball has a knack for creating circumstances that give rise to special moments that turn into unique memories.

Royals rookie catcher Nick Dini found himself in the middle of one of those moments Monday night, and he produced a memory that’s imprinted on the mind of teammates, his manager and an entire clan who made the 2 1/2 hour trip from New Jersey to Baltimore to be in the ballpark.

Dini, 26, made his major-league debut Aug. 8, after catcher Cam Gallagher went on the injured list because of a left oblique strain.

Monday night was Dini’s fourth game, and he blasted his first major-league home run in the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

“You dream about it, you think about it all the time coming up through the minor leagues,” Dini said. “Then it happens and you feel like you’re floating around the bases. It was pretty special, and to be able to do it so close to home — have as many people here as I did — it was really special.”

The home run set off a chain reaction of cheers, screams and exultant shouts from the stands for a player on the visiting ballclub. In the stands, there were several Royals jerseys with his No. 33 and Dini printed on them.

Dini quipped those jerseys sported by his friends and family were probably the only ones to ever come off the store shelves.

“My parents were here, grandparents, sister, cousins, friends, friends of friends, aunts and uncles, anything, you name it, everybody was here,” Dini said.

Dini, who’d batted .296 with 13 home runs and 11 doubles in 58 games for Triple-A Omaha, estimated 40 family members and friends made the trip from Monroe Township, New Jersey. The group included his sister, who could be heard yelling after the home run, “That’s my brother!”

“You know how hard they’ve worked to get here and it’s been a lifelong dream for them to play in the big leagues, let alone hit his first home run,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It sounds hokey, but it’s always a pleasure and a privilege to see a kid hit his first big-league home run.”

Dini’s home run came on the first pitch of his at-bat against Orioles relief pitcher Gabriel Ynoa, and it accounted for the Royals’ fifth run in a 5-4 win. It also came one pitch after his teammate, friend and former roommate Nicky Lopez launched his second home run in the majors.

“He just had homered on a first pitch too, and I kinda figured, just the way we call games sometimes as a catcher, a guy lets up a homer and you want to get right back in the zone and get strike one,” Dini said. “I was thinking about that. I knew he has a good sinker, some good (velocity) on it too. I was kinda just cheating to the fastball. I got it, and was able to put a good swing on it.”

Lopez’s homer was his first in a major-league ballpark. His first homer came at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, which was his home ballpark as a college player at Creighton University.

Lopez and Dini have roomed together the past two years during spring training and lived on the same floor while playing in the minors this season prior to being promoted to the majors.

“Nick’s been one of my best friends throughout every year in the minor leagues,” Lopez said. “It’s good to see that he’s having some success. He deserves it, so I’m glad it happened to him, too.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.
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