Giovanni DiGiacomo can’t wait this weekend to hear the words “PLAY BALL!”

Jonathan Mailhes

LSU sophomore center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo lives within a relay throw to the nearest baseball field.

It’s the very field DiGiacomo grew up playing on in his hometown of Naples, Fla., the place where neighborhood kids convened to stage their next competitive game.

For the past three months, though, since DiGiacomo returned home from LSU after his season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, state mandated stay-at-home orders resulted in the closure of the field.

“To be told I couldn’t go to the field for a period of time was difficult,” he said.

That’s encapsulated a period in DiGiacomo’s life like no other. He completed his spring semester of coursework online while navigating his way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

With nearby public beaches closed, DiGiacomo got creative to compensate for the closures of local gyms.

“I went to Lowe’s and bought a steel bar to put weights on for a makeshift home gym,” he said. “It was definitely hard. Things got boring. I’ve never had so much free time on my hands and I had no idea what to do with it.”

Baseball-related activities wound up requiring a 20-minute drive to meet with a group of 20 friends – a collection of either college or professional players from either Boston or Minnesota’s Triple-A teams – twice a week for the past month. DiGiacomo worked on all facets of his game, including the luxury of facing live pitching.

It was a little slice of baseball nirvana for players like DiGiacomo, who anxiously awaits his return to competitive action Sunday at 11 a.m. (EST) when he represents the Florida Pokers in the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I miss being on the field and being able to play the game. I don’t think I’ve been away from it this long or been away from the baseball field in general.”

DiGiacomo led LSU in hitting with a .351 average in 13 games, finishing the season on a tear. He batted .458 (11 of 24) in his last seven games when the Tigers (12-5) had their season halted before the start of Southeastern Conference play at Ole Miss.

It represented quite a turnaround for DiGiacomo, who wasn’t an everyday player and batted .143 (2 for 14) with six strikeouts, while splitting time in centerfield with freshman Maurice Hampton Jr.

“(LSU) Coach (Paul) Mainieri made it clear to me that centerfield was open, and he was going to put the best guy there,” said DiGiacomo, who hit .275 with 15 RBIs and six stolen bases in 53 games his freshman year. “If he had to split time, he would split time. If had to put Mo there, he would. It was one of those things where it whoever was proving that he deserved that spot was going to win it.”

That pattern of dividing time in center field with Hampton continued through the Shriner’s Hospital for Children College Classic in Houston until DiGiacomo experienced a breakthrough moment. He went 3-for-4 in a 6-4 loss to Baylor on Feb. 29, and gained some traction in LSU’s starting lineup with Hampton hampered by a back ailment.

DiGiacomo wound up as the team’s leading hitter, taking advantage of a stretch where he successfully hit in four straight games. It included a 3-for-3 outing with a double, walk and RBI in an 11-2 win over UMass-Lowell on March 6, and started in center.

“I felt like I was getting in a groove, getting a rhythm and putting in a lot of time with (LSU hitting) coach (Eddie) Smith,” DiGiacomo said. “I worked on my swing and worked on being more consistent. I got really excited because I was starting to find that comfortability and get consistent. It’s unfortunate that it (coronavirus health scare) happened, but that’s part of the process of working and trying to find that feeling again.”

DiGiacomo, a 29th round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Canterbury High School in 2018, is no stranger to the benefits of summer baseball.

He played in Maryland in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League in ’18 and made the leap last summer to the prestigious Cape Cod League where he anticipated a possible return this summer.

With several collegiate summer leagues shutdown because of COVID-19, and a mad scramble for college teams to find a home for their players, DiGiacomo found himself ticketed for Boca Raton to take part in the South Florida Collegiate League – less than a two-hour drive from home.

“I’m excited any my parents will be able to make the drive,” he said. “That will be cool because they haven’t been able to watch my summer games.”

Along with returning to his south Florida roots, DiGiacomo’s equally excited about getting back to the business of playing baseball. The former Class 3A Player of the Year in 2018, who helped Canterbury to consecutive state championships, looks forward to embarking on a 40-game summer season that’s scheduled to conclude July 30.

DiGiacomo, who will be teammates with former LSU infielder Hal Hughes (who has since transferred to Rice), also relishes competing against current teammates Cade Doughty and Collier Cranford of the Boca Raton Blazers, catcher Alex Milazzo of the Boynton Beach Buccaneers and first baseman Cade Beloso and infielder Zach Arnold of the West Boca Snappers.

“It’s a huge opportunity to be able to play again, I’m excited,” DiGiacomo said. “You try not to let the time off affect you. This break was longer than I anticipated, but you had to put in work in the meantime and when the time comes to play, you’re ready for it.”

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William Weathers

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