Lenny DiNardo Speaks at World Series Club

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Lenny DiNardo spoke on February 27, 2017 at the World Series Club dinner held at the VFW Hall in West Hartford. DiNardo spent parts of six seasons in the major leagues with the Red Sox (2004-2006), A’s (2007-2008) and Royals (2009). He also pitched for Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Pitching for the Atlantic League Lancaster Barnstormers, in 2013, he hurled his only professional no-hitter, and he was fully aware of what was going on. Never a star player, he recalled that the last time that he was the best arm on a team was in the Babe Ruth League. He recalled that there were bigger talents than him in the minors but they often were inconsistent or injury prone.

As a kid, he “created his own fire,” and worked out continuously with his father, adapting each season and relearning his craft. The best advice he got was from Pedro Martinez who said, “Taste the ball with your fingertips!” His best memory from the WBC is being with Mike Piazza, who was incredibly humble.

He spoke of the relationship between pitchers and catchers. Although some catchers try to “frame” pitches, umpires have been known to take exception to the process. He did, however, try to discern the umpire’s strike zone and pitch towards that strike zone. Over the years, he had several catchers with whom he worked well. Jason Varitek kept books on hitters, and would tell his pitchers, if they disagreed on a called pitch, “Rather you throw the wrong pitch with conviction than the right pitch without conviction.” DiNardo tends to pitch to his own strengths. Along the way, his best coaches were Bob Ojeda and Tom Burgmeier.

Lenny originally signed with the New York Mets and was in their organization through 2003. The Mets had selected him in the third round of the 2001 draft out of Stetson University in Deland, Florida. The High Springs Florida native had been drafted out of high school by the Red Sox but elected to play college ball. He feels that he got bigger, stronger, and more mature during his three years at Stetson.  He concentrated on his cutter and the Red Sox showed renewed interest, making him a Rule Five selection prior to the 2004 season. One day, late in spring training after fielding practice, Terry Francona told him that he was going north with the team.

He made it to the big leagues with the Red Sox in 2004, debuting on April 23, 2004 at New York. It was a one-sided game, and DiNardo was called upon to pitch the ninth inning with the Red Sox leading the Yankees 11-2. He retired the side in order getting out Gary Sheffield (groundout), Hideki Matsui (strikeout), and Bernie Williams (groundout). When warming up, he couldn’t feel his legs. It was a surreal experience. It was like climbing a mountain on the mound at Yankee Stadium. The butterflies he felt were normal. As teammate and veteran Mike Timlin told him, “If you stop getting butterflies, you’re in trouble.”

He feels that for a player to succeed, he needs to have someone in his corner. The man in DiNardo’s corner was general manager Theo Epstein of the Red Sox. DiNardo appeared in 22 games in 2004, but had blister problems and did not pitch in the majors after July 4, missing the post-season. But he did partake in Boston’s celebration after the season and joined his teammates in Duck Boats. It was a “really special” experience.

He has positive memories of that 2004 team. “Something was always going on,” when the Red Sox faced the Yankees. Varitek, an animal on the field was deservedly named team captain and Kevin Millar kept things light. Although Nomar Garciapara was on his way out when DiNardo joined the Red Sox in 2004, Nomar did show concern for the young DiNardo. Lenny labeled Curt Shilling “a bulldog – a horse.” Of course, there were the pranks. At the time, both DiNardo and Kevin Yukulis were rookies and on a trip from Toronto to Tampa the pair was made to wear “Hooters” outfits. And Johnny Pesky called him “pecker head.” On the more serious side, when pitcher Jon Lester was in rehab, Lenny offered him his guitar.

He pitched with Boston in 2005 and 2006 and got more great memories. David “Big Papi” Ortiz was a “Great teammate, force, leader in the clubhouse,” and Manny Ramirez was a hard worker and smart hitter who baited pitchers. There was a solid camaraderie between Ramirez and Millar and Millar would give Manny pet phrases to use.

He would not be with the Red Sox when they won their next championship.

He moved on to the A’s in 2007, playing for general manager Billy Beane, with whom he shared an interest in music and bands. Beane did not want to lose. After two years with the A’s, he played his last major league baseball with Kansas City in 2009.

He played four more seasons at various locales and, after 13 years in professional baseball, DiNardo retired at the end of the 2013 season which he spent in the Atlantic League playing for Butch Hobson.

Asked about steroids in baseball, he said that, although he didn’t see it, it was no secret that it was going on. With steroids, there were guys who played longer and got healthier sooner. He added that it is sad that some very good players will be remembered primarily for having use drugs.

Speaking of the World Baseball Classic in which he participated in 2006 and 2009, he said that the Italian born players with whom he participated showed much in the way of enthusiasm. The WBC, he feels promotes baseball around the world and will hopefully reverse the decline of interest in the game.

Towards the end of his career, he played internationally in Taiwan and the Dominican Republic. In Taiwan, although the food was “awful,” the players were fundamentally sound.

He is still “always glad to put on a glove and pick up a ball. And the World Series club was glad to have him. 

Darlene Susco