Blast from the past
By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
Allen Dina is Saint Leo's all-time leading hitter with a .453 average.
In Matt Gifford's four seasons at Saint Leo, he batted .390 and twice surpassed .400.
The former teammates (Class of 1998) credit one another for their achievements at the NCAA Division II school.
"If it were not for Matt Gifford, I don't know if I would have done as well as I did," said Dina, an outfielder.
"There were many nights when the two of us would be out at the batting cage for hours playing hitting games trying to improve," Dina said.
Gifford, a second baseman, said: "It was kind of a give-and-take relationship between Al and I. We always pushed each other to do better."
Dina and Gifford are among five former Saint Leo players named to the Sunshine State Conference Silver Anniversary Team. The others are pitcher Bob Tewksbury, catcher Bob Gibree and first baseman Phil Ross.
Echoing the sentiment of the others, Tewksbury said: "It's quite an honor. I'm proud to be on that list."
Tewksbury, 41, is the only one to have made it to the major leagues. The right-hander played for six teams in a 13-year career and lives in New Hampshire as a Red Sox pitching consultant.
All but Dina have given up playing.
The 28-year-old spent four seasons in the New York Mets system and won a Florida State League batting title (.344 with Port St. Lucie in 1999). But Dina was released this season and is hitting .229 for the Bridgeport (Conn.) Bluefish of the Independent Atlantic League.
"I probably will only play for another year or two unless I get back with another (major-league organization)," Dina said.
Ross, 40, spent a summer in the Cape Cod League after graduating in 1985. He coaches his son's Little League squad.
Recently, Ross guided his team to a Tri-City Majors (ages 10-12) title in Port Charlotte.
As a senior, Ross led the SSC with a .484 average (the same Dina had when he won the 1998 batting crown). Ross, who belted a pair of grand slams as a senior, ended his career with a home run.
Like Tewksbury, Gifford is the only other former Monarch (Saint Leo's nickname before being changed to the Lions in 1999) to make a living in baseball. Gifford, 27, coaches at Florida Air Academy.
Like Dina, Gibree spent time in the minors but after four years in the Seattle Mariners organization decided to hang it up. Gibree, 38, said his fondest memories at Saint Leo were catching Tewksbury and playing with about 20 New Englanders.
"We had a (Mass.) connection down there," Tewksbury said.
Competing in Florida "was a chance to play ball more than 14 games a year and get seen by the scouts," Tewksbury said.
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