NORWALK — Greenwich softball coach Mary Beth Fratello wanted nothing to do with the player stepping into the batter’s box.
Dina DiBlasio, a senior catcher at Norwalk High, lives for the moments like the one presented to her during the Bears’ April 28 game against the Cardinals: bases loaded, late in a tight game, the bat in her hand.
Fratello, her staff, her pitcher and her catcher were all on the same page, as well. An intentional walk was called, forcing in another run in what would be Norwalk’s 11-10 win over Greenwich.
“We were afraid of her, I’ll admit it,” Fratello said. “We have a lot of respect for her and we know what she’s all about. She hit a couple of home runs against us last year and we didn’t want to take that chance. Giving up one run in that situation was better than giving up four.”
Such is the fear DiBlasio strikes in opposing coaches when she walks to the plate.
“I kind of expected it going up there,” DiBlasio said. “You get mad at first, but you know. It’s like, thank you! Thank you for having that kind of respect for me.”
DiBlasio has earned that respect through a long career of hitting balls further than anybody else.
From her days as a player with the Norwalk Zoomers and Riptide, two city-based travel programs, to summers competing with the Connecticut Angels, DiBlasio has built her reputation one hit at a time.
With one swing of the bat, she can put runs on the board, and she’s done it over the course of her entire Norwalk career, where she has been a four-year starter for the Bears.
She entered the season with 101 hits and a career batting average of .441, which included 22 doubles, 14 triples and 17 home runs.
She’s once again hitting over .400 and has added six more home runs this season, where teams constantly pitch around her or intentionally walk her on a regular basis.
Nine of her first 14 hits this season went for extra bases.
“I think she’s a very feared hitter,” Fratello said.
As history shows, teams should be fearful when DiBlasio steps to the plate.
A LEGEND GROWS
Players like Bryce Harper and LeBron James were legends before their time, and if softball were a more mainstream sport, with its adult athletes making millions and being splashed across “SportsCenter” on a regular basis, it’s quite possible DiBlasio could be, as well.
She hit her first home run as a 10-year-old travel player. This wasn’t a Little League single, three-error “home run” either. This was a blast hit over the fence at Brien McMahon’s varsity field.
She broke a pitching machine in Darien by lacing a line drive back up the middle and into the machine.
Before her senior year, DiBlasio has been measured with an an exit speed of 76 mph off her bat, which is comparable to what professional softball players hit, according to the website zepp.com.
“Hitting has always been my thing,” DiBlasio said. “When I was younger, I didn’t have a good arm or a good glove. But I could hit the ball. In T-ball, I was 4 or 5 and hitting it further than the boys.”
She started working with a hitting coach and would even work on her craft in the basement of her family home, at least until she started breaking windows.
“My favorite thing is just hearing the ball off the bat, when you hear that connection and know it’s gone,” DiBlasio said. “That’s pretty great.”
Thanks to her hitting prowess, DiBlasio can carry a big bat. What she doesn’t carry with her is a big ego.
“She’s very humble. You don’t hear her brag about it,” Norwalk coach Elaine Gratrix said. “She could brag because she can back it up, but she knows there is more out there.”
The daughter of Dan and Robyn DiBlasio followed in her sister Nicole’s footsteps by becoming a softball player.
She started her career as a third baseman before being thrown behind the plate by her coach/dad.
“I was 10 and we had a tournament and our catcher just announced all of a sudden, ‘I’m going to Disney World tomorrow,’ ” DiBlasio remembered. “My dad threw me back there and I made an out at home plate and ever since I’ve been catching all my life.”
FROM THIRD TO HOME AGAIN
When DiBlasio arrived at Norwalk High as a freshman, the Bears already had a catcher.
Coach Elaine Gratrix knew she had to get DiBlasio’s bat in the lineup, though, so the player moved back to third base.
“I haven’t had a more powerful hitter,” said Gratrix, who has been part of the Norwalk program for 22 years, including the last nine as head coach. “She’s naturally a strong person. There is natural pop and then when you enhance it with training and practice, this is what you get.”
After three seasons of playing third behind the since-graduated Sam Troetti, DiBlasio has returned “home” for her senior season.
“I liked third base, but I’m more at home literally behind home plate,” she said.
Norwalk doesn’t have captains this season, but off the field, DiBlasio is one of the Bears’ key leaders, joining classmates Katie Sciglimpaglia, Jessica Otto, Skyler Suda, Gabby Catino and Marisa Swanson.
“I had always heard about the history of Norwalk softball, so I’m glad to be a part of it,” DiBlasio said. “We have good coaches and good girls and we all work so hard.”
All that hard work has paid off for DiBlasio, who will take her hitting talents and catching prowess to Western New England University in the fall.
“It felt like home,” she said. “I did overnights at a bunch of schools, but I felt like I could live there for four years. I knew I could help the team and get a good education.”
That’s in the future, though.
For now, DiBlasio — who wants to be a teacher and coach in the future — is focused on the end of her Norwalk career and how far she can help take the Bears into the postseason.
She can do that best by grabbing a bat and stepping into the batter’s box.
“She’s very comfortable at the plate,” Gratrix said. “She never looks intimated or overmatched. It’s a place she wants to be.”