Double play

Timmy at the bat: Di­Gior­gio, who threw for 44 TDs and 4,061 yards as QB, has pitched, played cen­ter and swung a hot stick for the Pi­on­eers. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

— Tim Di­Gior­gio set re­cords as Frank­ford’s quar­ter­back; now, he’s giv­ing base­ball a try. And guess what? He’s pretty good.

In last Thursday’s 8-5 Di­vi­sion A vic­tory over Frank­lin Towne Charter, something about Frank­ford’s base­ball team looked dif­fer­ent, and it wasn’t hulk­ing first base­man Kev­in Montero’s ad­ven­tur­ous at­tempt to play third for the first time in two years.

Sure, that was a strange sight, but far less off-the-wall than watch­ing Tim Di­Gior­gio, the Pi­on­eers’ re­cord-set­ting quar­ter­back, bat­ting third and play­ing cen­ter field for Juan Namnun’s two-time de­fend­ing Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship pro­gram. 

If watch­ing Di­Gior­gio stride to the plate in the bot­tom of the first wear­ing his fa­mil­i­ar No. 11 was a sur­prise, then ima­gine the re­ac­tion when the kid bound for Temple Uni­versity as a pre­ferred foot­ball walk-on smoked an op­pos­ite-field double to stake the Pi­on­eers to a 1-0 lead. Two in­nings later, just for good meas­ure, Di­Gior­gio led off with an­oth­er op­pos­ite-field laser to left-cen­ter and quickly scored Frank­ford’s third run. He fin­ished the game 2-for-4 with an RBI and scored two runs … not bad for a kid who hadn’t played or­gan­ized base­ball since one stint of JV his fresh­man year at Frank­ford.

So what gives, Tim?

“It’s my seni­or year, plus it’s my dad’s fa­vor­ite sport,” Frank­ford’s quiet, un­as­sum­ing star said after the win. “I wanted him to have a chance to see me play.”

Di­Gior­gio’s ac­com­plish­ments as a quar­ter­back are no secret. In just two years as the starter, he com­piled 4,061 passing yards, good for second all-time for a Pub­lic League QB. He also fired 44 touch­down passes — 30 his ju­ni­or year — help­ing the Pi­on­eers to a 17-6 re­cord, two reg­u­lar sea­son crowns, two league cham­pi­on­ship ap­pear­ances and one league title this past sea­son.

Namnun, Frank­ford foot­ball’s de­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or, cer­tainly knew about Di­Gior­gio’s abil­it­ies on the grid­iron. But nobody was more sur­prised than Namnun when Di­Gior­gio sought him out a few weeks be­fore spring prac­tice  and began to tell the coach of his de­sire to give base­ball a try. 

At first, the coach was hes­it­ant.

“My first thought was ‘No,’” re­called Namnun, who has won eight of the last 13 league base­ball titles, in­clud­ing three of the last five as head coach. “One, he knew base­ball was my pas­sion, and I didn’t want him to think he could just come out and goof around. It had to be taken ser­i­ously. And also, he’s a Di­vi­sion-I foot­ball play­er. He’s well on his way. I didn’t want to be the guy who jeop­ard­ized his fu­ture by mess­ing with his throw­ing mech­an­ics.”

Gradu­ally, Di­Gior­gio wore his coach down. It was his seni­or year after all, and the Frank­ford nat­ive wanted to ex­per­i­ence everything he could at the high school level be­fore mov­ing on to Temple. Di­Gior­gio backed up his prom­ise to take this ser­i­ously with true base­ball skills on the field, of which Namnun called “my most pleas­ant sur­prise” this sea­son. Faced with the daunt­ing task of re­pla­cing league MVP Au­gusto Or­tega in cen­ter, Namnun gave Di­Gior­gio a shot and saw right away he could smoothly run down fly balls. 

Not only that, but the kid with the golden left arm can pitch a bit too, fir­ing a base­ball with as much force and pur­pose of a pig­skin. While Di­Gior­gio’s mech­an­ics on the mound still need some re­fin­ing (namely har­ness­ing his con­trol and throw­ing off­speed pitches with con­fid­ence), his coach loves the fact that he has a backup pitch­er who can reach the mid-80s on the radar gun.

“Throw­ing a base­ball and foot­ball suc­cess­fully, that’s a total 180-de­gree turn,” Namnun said. “Hon­estly, I didn’t ex­pect him to be so im­pact­ful right away. I thought he could maybe make a dif­fer­ence on the mound come late April, but we’ve had to change our goals for him now. I’ve had to ad­just my lineup to bat him third be­cause he hits the ball on the screws every time. Not only can he help us pitch­ing, but if he con­tin­ues on this met­eor­ic rise, he can be one of the best hit­ters in our league this year.

“You could have giv­en me 50 names on who my cen­ter field­er would be, and I nev­er would have guessed Tim. But he just picks things up so eas­ily.”

Di­Gior­gio has even sur­prised him­self a bit.

“I didn’t really ex­pect to be a key con­trib­ut­or,” he ad­mit­ted. “I figured I’d try to make the team and maybe get a start­ing spot. It’s still a pro­cess, and I’m not all the way there yet. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Namnun told a story of an earli­er game this sea­son against di­vi­sion foe Prep Charter when a pro­fes­sion­al scout came to watch the 6’5’’ Montero — a fu­ture Ma­jor League hope­ful — play first and dis­play his tre­mend­ous power at the plate. By the third in­ning, the scout had gone to re­trieve a radar gun from his vehicle, sud­denly trans­fixed by the tall, lanky kid throw­ing gas on the mound.

“That scout’s mis­sion sheet went from ‘Kev­in Montero’ to ‘Kev­in Montero’ and ‘Who is this kid?’” Namnun said. “He does it nat­ur­ally. That’s ath­leti­cism. Plus, he’s a bull­dog. That’s what he brings to the table.”

On a team that lost sev­en starters from last year’s group, Di­Gior­gio’s sur­prise emer­gence has been pure bliss for Namnun. Di­Gior­gio’s calm­ing pres­ence on the field as a lead­er makes the young play­ers more com­fort­able, even if most of them don’t know a foot­ball from a beach ball.

“My second biggest con­cern was Tim not ex­actly fit­ting the tra­di­tion­al Frank­ford base­ball mode,” Namnun said of the pro­gram’s heavy Lat­in-Amer­ic­an in­flu­ence. “But he be­friended kids in­stantly, kids who don’t even speak much Eng­lish. He cracks one-liners to keep them loose, but he also teaches them. It’s been fas­cin­at­ing, and hon­estly amaz­ing, to watch.”

Just to be clear, foot­ball still comes first for Di­Gior­gio. However, with the Pi­on­eers off to a quick 3-1 league start and him be­ing right in the middle of the ac­tion, he is open to the pos­sib­il­ity of giv­ing base­ball a shot at Temple … if his foot­ball coaches al­low it.

“It’s in the back of my mind,” he said. “I’d like to do both, so we’ll have to wait and see. Play­ing com­pet­it­ive sports is just who I am. I like it out there in cen­ter, be­ing the quar­ter­back of the de­fense.”

And make no mis­take about it: Di­Gior­gio would ab­so­lutely love to win one more cham­pi­on­ship at a school that has grown to mean so much to him. If not, that’s OK too, be­cause as he’s find­ing out, giv­ing base­ball a shot has proven to be a fit­ting end for a guy who will go down as one of the all-time greats at a school that’s pro­duced plenty of le­gendary per­formers over time.

“It’d mean everything to fin­ish up with an­oth­er cham­pi­on­ship,” he said. “But that’s num­ber two … num­ber one is to go out and just have fun with the guys on this team in the time we have left. But if we did win?

“It would be a great end­ing to a pretty good book.” ••

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