He loves the game like Ernie Banks did. He has the build of David Eckstein. His name? Joe DiMaggio. No, not that Joe DiMaggio.
This one hails from Crystal Lake, Ill. This one is shorter and more playful. This one is — he thinks — a distant relative of the famous Yankee Hall of Famer.
He is a sophomore do-everything player for the Mesa Community College baseball team. He landed there after attending a baseball camp at Arizona State, his dream school. Former ASU assistant Jay Sferra told him he should go to Mesa to fine-tune his game, so he did.
This Joe DiMaggio doesn’t have one set position. He’s played center field — like the Yankee Clipper — and left. He’s been a shortstop. Played next to a kid named Steve Mays last season.
“Mays and DiMaggio, that’s quite the double play combination, huh?” Mesa coach Tony Cirelli said. “All we needed was a Gehrig.”
DiMaggio has always heard the quips about his name, but gained national attention in March when Yahoo! Sports did a story about him. He might not be as famous as the original Joe DiMaggio — or Dom, for that matter — but he’s gained a sort of cult status on the Internet.
“The Yahoo one set it off,” DiMaggio said. “I got like 50 messages from people on (Web sites) Myspace and Facebook asking me to be their friend. They would say, 'I don’t really know you, but I just think it would be cool to be friends with Joe DiMaggio.’”
Cirelli is getting a taste of it as well. He recently stopped in for lunch at his favorite deli, a place in Scottsdale called DeFalco’s.
“I walk in, and the guy says to me, 'Hey coach, my name is Babe Ruth, can I play for your team?’ ” Cirelli said.
During his junior year of high school, DiMaggio came to a realization. At 5-foot-7, the three-sport star wasn’t going to make it collegiately in football or basketball.
Plus, his name was Joe DiMaggio. He had to be a baseball player.
He came down last year as a freshman and, logically, requested the famed No. 5. The number Joltin’ Joe wore for 13 seasons with the Yankees. The one Joe had been wearing since T-ball.
But there was a problem. That was Cirelli’s number, and it had been as long as he could remember.
“You ask any Italian-American and Joe DiMaggio is their hero,” Cirelli said. “I’ve had this number since I was five.”
DiMaggio lobbied hard, but Cirelli wouldn’t budge.
DiMaggio now wears No. 1.
“He’s a resilient man,” DiMaggio said. “What can you do? He’s the head skipper. It’s all right, though, I got the number locked down already at UNLV.”
That’s where DiMaggio is playing ball next year, and he can’t wait. He relives over and over what the first road trip will be like, his first taste of thousands of fans mocking his famous first and last name.
He hasn’t gotten it yet. High school and junior college crowds aren’t that big.
But he knows it’s coming.
“Fans really hammer you at D-I,” DiMaggio said. “I know for a fact I’m going to hear some Marilyn Monroe stuff.”
But Joe DiMaggio loves his name. He’s happy to answer any questions about it.
“You’re going to get a lot of attention, and I learned to just have fun with it,” DiMaggio said.
“He handles it a lot better than I did,” his father, also Joe DiMaggio, said.
Joe, the father, loves the name, too. In 1985, Joe’s mom, Kim, was pregnant with a child.
Dad thought he was getting another Joe D. Instead, he got a Jodi. She went on to play softball, of course. Probably could have played at Arizona State if not for an injury.
A couple years later, Joe got his son. He didn’t think to name him Bob or Tony or Ralph.
“No (second thoughts), none at all,” the elder Joe said. “He had to be Joe DiMaggio.”
And if Joe DiMaggio has a son, he gets the name, too.
“My grandfather did it to my dad and my dad did it to me,” DiMaggio said. “I’m (darn) sure going to give the name to my kid.”