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Dignacco is in the Army now

Indians relief pitcher Nick Dignacco has a smile for fans at Avista Stadium. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Indians relief pitcher Nick Dignacco has a smile for fans at Avista Stadium. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Professional baseball career won’t necessarily end for West Point grad

Nick Dignacco listened to the thrilling tales of his uncle, David Selden, but thought he’d never want a part of that life.

Now Dignacco is following his uncle into the U.S. Army.

“My uncle’s a Green Beret (U.S. Army Special Forces),” said Dignacco, a left-handed relief pitcher with the Spokane Indians. “He was in the Army for 20 years and he was always a role model for me. But I had never desired to do what he did. I still don’t, because he did some crazy stuff.”

Dignacco, 22, recently commissioned as a second lieutenant after his graduation from West Point, will report to Fort Lee, Virginia, on Sept. 21 for a four-month military leadership course. His first duty station will be Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The start of Dignacco’s military career won’t necessarily mean the end of his professional baseball career.

“In the past, some guys have been in the same situation,” Dignacco said. “The Army has been generous enough that they have a pro option where they let you leave after 1 1/2 to two years, depending on some factors involved. … It’s definitely an option for me.”

Dignacco was considered a hot property coming out of Housatonic Valley (Connecticut) High School, having led the state in strikeouts his senior season. Several colleges in the Northeast recruited him, but Dignacco canceled all of his official visits after hearing Army’s sales pitch.

“Prior to that, I’d never wanted to go (to Army),” Dignacco said. “I’d heard of it and I was skeptical about wanting to go there. But I think the ultimate thing I tell people is I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I didn’t want to have any regrets later on, because it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to graduate from West Point.”

The Black Knights had their share of success during Dignacco’s tenure. Dignacco missed his junior season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he finished 6-3 last spring, with 79 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings, while leading Army to the Patriot League regular-season title.

The Texas Rangers selected Dignacco in the 40th round of June’s Major League Draft, making him the 11th Army player to receive the call and the first since 2012.

“(The Rangers) are fully aware of what’s going on,” Dignacco said. “I’m not entirely sure of all of the factors involved, but if (Texas) wanted me back (in pro ball) and I wanted to come back, the Army would let me come back.”

Dignacco hadn’t been west of the Mississippi River in 18 years when he was assigned to the Indians. He was quickly impressed by Avista Stadium’s facilities, the fans’ attentiveness and the town’s dry heat.

Shifting from starter to reliever has been his most difficult adjustment.

“Some guys say it’s a little harder to warm up and I’ve found that’s pretty true,” Dignacco said. “As a starter, you go out to the field 35-40 minutes ahead of the game. … As a reliever, you’re supposed to get hot right after the coach radios down to the bullpen manager.”

Dignacco is 2-2 with a 2.70 earned-run average in 16 2/3 innings with the Indians. He has struck out 20 and walked six.

Dignacco’s parents, Mike and Karen of Sharon, Connecticut, have three other sons who have all played baseball: Tom, 24; Mark, 19; and Scott, 15. Mark plays for the club team at Clemson University and Scott is an up-and-coming shortstop who earned his travel team’s hitting award last year.

“He also gets on the mound every once in a while,” Dignacco said. “He’s right-handed, so he didn’t get the lefty gift that I did.”

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