Playing A Familiar Tune

April 19, 2001

By Jay Reddick

AC/DC's "Back in Black" is a song you might have heard a thousand times. It's been featured everywhere from Comedy Central to your local classic-rock radio station.

But you haven't heard it nearly as much as Jamie D'Antona has. Or if you have, it doesn't mean as much to you.

"Back in Black" is played whenever D'Antona comes to bat at Hooks Stadium, but the freshman first baseman has also listened to the tune before every meaningful game he's played since he was 13 years old.

"On road trips in high school, in our van, we always played 'AC/DC Live' the entire trip," D'Antona said. "In AAU we won a national championship, finished second in one national tournament, fourth in another. Finished third in the state, second in the conference, all with that song. Why break a tradition? Maybe that's the key to what's working. I'm not going to be the one to try it, and all of a sudden we start to suck."

D'Antona's self-professed "only superstition," along with a lot of talent, has made him one of the Deacons' most pleasant surprises this season. Through April 10, he led the team in home runs (nine) and RBIs (42), and his .358 average was third on the club.

All this for a freshman who, though highly regarded coming out of Trumbull (Conn.) High, never expected stardom this quickly.

"Every day is different," D'Antona said. "It's always a surprise to come out every day and play on a team like this. I've never played on a team with as much talent as this one, and I feel fortunate that I'm able to actually do it, not to mention start and bat fourth. It's been a trip."

D'Antona was in George Greer's starting lineup on day one, and he validated the coach's faith in him by getting a hit that first game...and the next...and the next. The hitting streak reached 15 games in all. For the first month of his college career, D'Antona never wore the collar.

In late March, he hit a short lull, going hitless in four of seven games at one point. The team had a similar slump, being swept by powerhouses Florida State and Clemson. Through it all, though, D'Antona was sure he and the Deacons would rebound.

"We've been in a position to win every single time we played," D'Antona said. "We just weren't getting that little break to get a rally and start winning some games. We played two top-15 teams and went down to the wire each time. That says something for us. We need to put it together when it needs to be done in the late innings."

D'Antona has played a big part in that clutch hitting, getting three final at-bat game-winning RBIs this season. In the final three innings of games, D'Antona is hitting over .400 with four home runs.

When D'Antona was looking at colleges last year, he balanced baseball and academics and found Wake Forest the best fit. Team chemistry didn't hurt either.

"Both my parents are teachers, and they had a big influence," D'Antona said. "I could have gone other places for more scholarship money, but this is the best baseball school and the best academic school I could have gotten into. The key for me, though, was when I came on my recruiting trip, it was just awesome to sit with all the players, and you could just see how tight everybody was. I didn't see that on my other trips. We hang out together, we eat together, we take classes together. We're always one team, and we have to win together."

That helped D'Antona's adjustment into college life, but the adjustment into college baseball took a little more time.

"We had an extensive fall, played a lot of intrasquads and saw a lot of live pitching," D'Antona said. "Seeing everybody throw has helped every freshman get into college baseball and helped every upperclassman get ready for the season. We've seen some of the best pitching we'll see, from our staff."

D'Antona has a legitimate shot at becoming the seventh Freshman All-American in school history or even greater honors. But you won't ever catch him settling for anything.

"I need to work on everything," he said. "You can never be good enough. I'm very hard on myself. Watching the older guys' approach has helped me out so much. Every day, I learn something new. There's no part of my game I can say, I want to keep this level."

D'Antona expects the same level from his teammates.

"We have the ability and the talent to win any time we want to," D'Antona said. "We haven't played to our ability yet, but we've played well, so we know what we have to do."

If D'Antona can get them where they want to go, Omaha might need to get ready for a little rock and roll.



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