Mar. 30, 2020
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. --- Back in May of 2011 ESPN's Keith Law recognized Biola Baseball as one of the top-3 programs in the NAIA in terms of producing professional talent. However, in the five years since he made that comment zero Eagles have gone into MLB organizations.
On Thursday June 16, 2016 Eric Diomartich broke the slump by signing a professional contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. He's the first Biola Baseball player in the pros since Cameron McVey and Bobby O'Neill were drafted in 2011.
"It's definitely makes me feel emotional. It's everything I've ever worked for in my life," said Diomartich. "I've always pushed myself to work harder than the guy in front of me. Getting here is surreal. I am getting paid to play a game I've played my whole life."
Diomartich's journey to this contract was anything but conventional. In the 37th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft Dio's phone rang for what he anticipated to be a life-changing moment. All the hours, days, months and years of hard work Diomartich poured into elevating his game to a professional level all came to a head with this one phone call.
As anticipated, it was a call from the Rays organization, but what was not anticipated was that they were calling to tell him that he would likely not be drafted in the 40 rounds of the draft. They let him know that they still fully intended to sign him to a free agent contract if he would have them.
The offer became official early the morning after the draft ended. Diomartich was actually driving to a pitching session for Washington Nationals scouts when his phone rang and the Rays extended the official invitation to join their organization. Needless to say, he did not make it to the workout for the Nationals.
"It was overwhelming and was one of the greatest moments I've had in my life," said Diomartich. "My mom just kept saying how proud of me she was and we just broke down and had a moment where we hugged each other for a solid minute and were crying."
There was not much more time for tears as the Rays staff quickly had Eric hop on a plane and make his way to Florida just two days later. After spending a night delayed and sleeping on the floor of an airport in Alabama Diomartich arrived in Florida on Wednesday June 15 and was eager, albeit exhausted, as he began his career in the professional ranks.
After a day of paperwork, physicals and drug tests Diomartich put pen to paper on June 16 and became an official member of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball club. He was hooked up with the gear to match and sent out to the Rays spring training facility for his first day of practice with the team, which came on Friday afternoon.
He ended up with the Rays organization due in large part to his performance at the 2016 Golden State Athletic Conference baseball tournament and his history of success against second round draft pick Lucas Erceg.
An LA-area scout was there to watch Erceg and Menlo College, but he was impressed by Diomartich getting Erceg to fan twice and go 0-for-3 in a playoff game. That began a process of bullpen sessions and workouts over the course of two more scouting visits. After these steps the Rays let Dio know that they were really interested in him as a polished lefty that can touch the 90s on the radar gun.
"Dio is one of the hardest working guys. This is why he is where he is at in professional baseball," said Justin Hixson, Biola's pitching coach. "He is going to be a tough matchup for left-handed hitters, and he will be able to keep hitters off balance with his plus curveball. He is a very high character guy that will be the light of Jesus Christ in the locker room. I am excited for him and proud of him. He is going to be the one that gets Biola's program back on track in the major leagues."
Major League Baseball is indeed the end goal for Diomartich, but he's beginning his journey with the Gulf Coast League Rays. This is the Rays' rookie league affiliate based out of Port Charlotte.
He's been told the plan is for him to get a few professional innings under his belt as a reliever with this team before being elevated to a Class A team as a starter. His first chance to appear in a ballgame is next Friday June 24 when the GCL Rays play the GCL Orioles at 9:00 a.m. PT.
"You dream of these things as a little kid, and now I am actually here and I have a chance to make that stuff come true," said Diomartich. "I want to make it to the big leagues, but I feel honored to be here and for the organization to have interest in working with my talents and progress me towards making my dreams come true."
Dio spent the last three seasons at Biola playing for Head Coach Jay Sullenger. He appeared in 41 games for the Eagles with 2016 being his standout season. This year he led the team to a GSAC Tournament Championship berth and an overall record of 31-27. He was the ace of the staff and set new career highs for wins, ERA, innings, strikeouts and batting average against.
Follow Dio's progress through professional baseball by visiting the Gulf Coast Rays official website here.
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