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#STINGDAILY: Catching Up with Derek Dietrich

July 7, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

From 2008 through 2010, Derek Dietrich epitomized Georgia Tech Baseball.

After choosing Georgia Tech over Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros, which selected him on the third round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the Parma, Ohio, native and St. Ignatius star, started with distinction at shortstop all 182 games on The Flats. He earned All-ACC honors all three seasons (second team as a freshman, first team as a sophomore and junior), was a freshman All-American and Rivals.com’s National Freshman of the Year in ’08, was a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award (College Player of the Year) as a sophomore and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award as a junior.

Dietrich, who led the team in RBIs as a freshman (66), finished his career ranked 10th in program history in career homers (41), tied for 14th in RBIs (181), 18th in total bases (412) and tied for 21st in runs (182).

He was as superb in the classroom, earning a spot on the All-ACC Academic team in 2009 and 2010.

Following his junior year, he chose to go pro after being drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit .278 with 39 homers and 176 RBIs in three seasons working his way up the Rays’ chain. Then, last Dec. 12, Dietrich was acquired from the Rays by the Miami Marlins.

He started 2013 in Double-A Jacksonville, but on May 8, got the call up to the Majors following injuries to infielders Donovan Solano and Chris Valaika.

Dietrich came out swinging, starting his Major League career with a five-game hitting streak, which included three straight multi-hit games (he has eight overall), and reaching base safely in his first 14 games — the second-longest streak to start a career in club history (three games behind Kevin Millar in 1999).

He’s also showed tremendous power, blasting eight home runs, tied with L.A. Dodger Yasiel Puig and San Diego’s Jedd Gyorko. Only Atlanta’s Evan Gattis (14) has more homers among Major League rookies. Since Dietrich made his debut on May 8, only Puig has as many home runs. While his average has cooled some — he begins play today hitting .218 — Dietrich continues to make adjustments as part of the up-and-coming Marlins.

Earlier this week, Dietrich played his first professional games at Turner Field during the Marlins’ three-game series with the Braves, and celebrated with hits in both games he played in the series — both of them doubles. He took time to sit down with Sting Daily to talk about rebuilding with the Marlins, building at Georgia Tech and bunting on Alex Rodriguez.

STING DAILY: How have your first weeks as a big leaguer been?

Derek Dietrich: Very exciting, of course. I feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to be helping out the Miami Marlins every day. It was an unexpected trade but very welcome and I knew right away that I would have an opportunity to help the big league ball club out at some point in the season. It came sooner than I thought but I’m very excited and glad that I have this opportunity.

STING: What was your reaction to your trade to the Marlins?

DIETRICH: I really didn’t have any idea that I was going to be traded but my agent was at the Winter Meetings and there were some rumblings. We talked back and forth and when the news became official I was extremely excited. I knew the Marlins were rebuilding and getting some new guys in and had a young club. So I was extremely pleased. I couldn’t wait to get to Spring Training and meet the staff and meet the guys and get it going in the right direction.

STING: Where were you when you got the news of the trade?

DIETRICH: I was actually at home with my parents and my sister, who was in town visiting. So it kind of worked out well. Unfortunately, it happened the day before my grandmother’s wake but it kind of brought the family together in a nice way. There was some happiness in a time of some sorrow. We were extremely happy at the time.

STING: How does it feel to be part of a such young team on the way up?

DIETRICH: It’s awesome. We’ve got a great team and we’re getting better each and every day. We have a chance to win every game now that we have everyone back. We have (pitcher) Henderson Alvarez coming back and (pitcher) Nate Eovaldi just returned and obviously [outfielder Giancarlo] Stanton’s back and “Lo-Mo” (outfielder Logan Morrison). So we’ve got a strong ball club and I think we’re going to finish this first half strongly and have a really good second half. We’re going to surprise some people.

STING: How would you assess your performance at the plate thus far (heading into today’s games he’s reached base in 41 of 48 games)?

DIETRICH: I’m just trying to consistently get better each and every day. There are adjustments that need to be made each and every day, each and every at-bat because there is a lot of scouting at this level and you need to be keen into your approach and what they’re doing to you and make those adjustments. But so far, so good. I’m just trying to go up there, compete and help the team. Get on base and do whatever I can to score runs and drive guys in.

STING: Your amongst the leaders among Major League rookies in home runs. Are you surprised at the power you’ve shown?

DIETRICH: It’s always been there. Power’s always been one of my best tools as a middle infielder, shortstop, second baseman. I’ve always had pretty good power coming from that position. I just try to put a good swing on the ball and hit it hard and if they go out they go out. So far it’s been going well.

STING: Has there been something of a ‘Wow!’ factor playing or facing guys you grew up watching?

DIETRICH: Absolutely. Every new team we play there’s always like, ‘Okay, I’ve been watching that guy for years.’ When I was at Georgia Tech I was watching Brian McCann and Dan Uggla and even Jason Heyward, who I played with in high school a little bit. Watching those guys and now you’re on the same field. So, yeah, it’s awesome, it’s very exciting and fulfilling to see those guys out there and be playing on the same field as them. Also, each and every time you go to a new ball park and you get out there at second base you see all the people. That’s when I feel like, ‘Man, this is the Major Leagues. I’m here. This is what I want to be doing.’

STING: Have you had a chance to visit Georgia Tech?

DIETRICH: Actually, we took a drive through campus today. They’re doing some fabulous things over there. It seems like there’s always construction but they’re always building and improving. I loved my time at Georgia Tech, playing for Coach Hall in the ACC. I know I made the right decision. I got better as a person and as a player at Tech. I loved my time being at school in Atlanta and representing the Yellow Jackets.

STING: When did you become a full-time second baseman and what’s been the biggest adjustment moving to second?

DIETRICH: I started playing second base at the end of last year in Double-A with the Tampa Bay Rays. The biggest adjustment is actually you have more time. You don’t have to rush as much, especially on routine plays. You have a lot of time. At first, I’d make a diving play and I’d [quickly] get up and I’d look and you don’t have to get it over there as quickly as you think. The double play, obviously, is a little bit different, coming across the bag now instead of coming through it from the shortstop side, but Perry Hill, our first base coach and infield instructor, has been huge for me. He’s made me better each and every day. Right from Day One in Spring Training I was like, ‘Wow, this guy’s a genius.’ He gets back to fundamentals, positioning, and he makes it very simple and makes you better.

STING: What was the feeling like coming back to Turner Field, this time as a pro?

DIETRICH: Awesome. Getting to play here a few times with the Georgia-Georgia Tech series was special for me. To be back here as a professional in the big leagues is even sweeter. It was awesome getting back out there. You’ve got Brian McCann catching and some of the guys that I’ve been watching playing, it was an awesome moment.

STING: Do you have a favorite memory with Georgia Tech at Turner Field?

DIETRICH: Not a specific one that comes to mind, but it’s always a game that you circled on the calendar, for both teams. We always had great fans here for that game, upward of 20,000 for UGA-Georgia Tech. Just being in the clubhouse, being in the locker room with the guys, everyone was always so excited and to get out there and represent the school was the best part. It was always exciting to play UGA. That rivalry is going to be forever and I enjoyed being a part of it.

STING: Do you still follow Georgia Tech Baseball?

DIETRICH: Oh yeah. I got a chance to see Tech play at Miami this year, when they finished the regular season down there. I went and watched a game and caught up with the guys and the coaches. It was good to see everybody.

STING: Would you have bunted on A-Rod the way Kyle Wren did for the Rome Braves (A) in the first inning last night?

DIETRICH: (laughs) I didn’t get to see that. Good for him. He’s a great player. He’s a smart kid. I’m sure, right away, he was like, ‘I’m going to test Alex Rodriguez right here.’ He was always a good player and that’s pretty cool. I’m sure he was pretty excited to be playing on the same field as Alex Rodriguez.

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