Diamonds and Ice

Former Kernels pitcher Dinga back in military
February 19, 2009, 9:54 pm
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Milan Dinga, who pitched briefly last season for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, has returned to active military duty in the Army.

Dinga works at West Point in the Center for Enhanced Performance, a psychology skills program for cadets, according to an Associated Press story that tracked athletes at Army who are trying to pursue professional athletic careers until a new military policy that went into effect over the summer.

Officers-athletes are allowed to pursue professional athletic careers after two years of active military duty upon graduation. The previous policy allowed officers-athletes to immediately pursue pro careers, while also serving as recruiters and reserves.

Dinga was a 10th-round draft pick in 2007 of the parent Los Angeles Angels, pitching one game last season for Cedar Rapids before being sidelined with an arm injury that required surgery. He is expected to resume throwing this summer.

Other pro baseball players affected are pitcher Nick Hill (Seattle Mariners), outfielder Cole White (Pittsburgh), pitcher Drew Clothier (Florida) and catcher Chris Simmons (Pittsburgh).

The most well-known athlete involved in the military’s new sports policy is football safety Caleb Campbell, a high draft pick of the Detroit Lions last year, who attended training camp until being called back to active duty. He is hoping to be allowed to join the Lions in 2010.

Here’s a story on Dinga I did last summer when he was in Cedar Rapids. A real good guy.


For Kernels and country
Military program gives ex-Army player chance at pros
By Jeff Johnson The Gazette  CEDAR RAPIDS — Milan Dinga is unlike virtually every other minor leaguer in professional baseball. It has nothing to do with his ability or his smarts on the baseball diamond. He isn’t overcoming a major injury, though he is on the disabled list with a strained right (throwing) shoulder. He’s not trying to convert from a position player to a pitcher or vice versa.

What makes Dinga unique is his background.

He’s a graduate of the United States Military Academy, one of two in pro ball right now. Former Army teammate Nick Hill is in the Seattle Mariners organization.

The two are getting a chance to make it to the major leagues under a relatively new military program called the Alternative Service Option. Dinga gets two years to pursue his baseball career while also serving as a recruiter for the Army. After those two years, he has the option to continue in professional baseball if he accepts six more years as a military reservist.

If he doesn’t take that option, he can retire from baseball and serve the remaining three years of his five-year postgraduate commitment to the Army. The Alternative Service Option also is available to Navy and Air Force grads and includes all sports, not just baseball.

“We’ll see what happens. I’ve got to get off the DL,” Dinga said. “It’s a blessing that they’re letting me pursue this career while still serving, doing my part with the Army … It’s been amazing so far, and I’m grateful that the Army has allowed me to pursue this (baseball).”

Dinga, 23, set 30 school and Patriot League records in his four-year career at Army. An outstanding two-way player who was his team’s closer and left fielder, he was selected by the parent Los Angeles Angels in the 10th round of last year’s amateur draft.

The Angels see him as a pitcher, and that’s strictly what he’s been since signing a contract with them. He threw in four games last season for Rookie-level Orem and has one inning in for the Kernels since joining the club recently from extended spring training.

“He’s got really good life on his fastball,” Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said shortly after last year’s draft. “He throws hard enough. And the leadership values of a kid like that are through the roof. He’s only (23) years old, but you expect that after having been through (a) military academy. You don’t usually see that kind of discipline.”

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about him,” Kernels Manager Keith Johnson said. “Before he got hurt, he was throwing the ball very well in spring training. He’s a strike thrower who works the bottom of the zone.”

A Florida native, Dinga never really thought about pro ball when he first decided to attend West Point. He was interested in the school’s great education and the chance to serve his country. His mother had served in the Air Force.

But when he was a sophomore, the Alternative Service Option was created. The first Army player to take advantage was outfielder Josh Holden, who signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 2005 and played the 2006 season for the Dayton Dragons in the Midwest League. Holden was released by the Reds in spring training.

“I think the impetus behind this program is that we are having trouble recruiting,” Dinga said. “So having a professional athlete serve as a recruiter will hopefully help increase recruiting. It should be a positive thing for the Army in the long run.

“West Point was the best possible opportunity for me coming out of high school. I knew that I’d get a great education and I’d get the chance to serve my country. Get a chance to be a leader and lead soldiers. I knew that I’d get a chance to play baseball, too. Then my sophomore year, they created this program where you could go play pro. Everything has worked out. It’s been pretty amazing.”

Now if only he can get healthy.

The plan is for him to rest his arm for a couple of weeks and then see where he is physically.

It’s a tough deal for Dinga, though not anything like what many of his West Point classmates are going through overseas. And the truth is he, too, could be called for active duty anywhere at any time.

“We’re strained pretty far right now (militarily),” Dinga said. “The Army is my boss. Basically, if they tell me I’m done playing baseball and going wherever, I’m there in a heartbeat.

“You’re always thinking about that. Some of my good friends, my best friends, from school are either overseas or are going overseas. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that. I get a lot of e-mails from them, calls from them, and they’re behind me 100 percent. That really encourages me every time I step on the field to give 100 percent. It encourages me to go 100 percent for them every second I’m on the baseball field.”


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