Goleta’s Dustin Demeter is keeping his sandlot dreams alive
Goleta’s Dustin Demeter was living a baseball dream that always had been just his sandlot make-believe.
It was the season opener on Feb. 7 … Bottom of the ninth inning … A teammate on base … Down by a run and down to the last strike.
And then bam! Demeter blasts a fastball over the right-field fence to give the University of Hawaii a 5-4, walk-off victory over Hawaii-Hilo before an opening-night crowd of 3,061.
There was no need for dreams that night.
“I was so wired from the adrenalin that I didn’t get to sleep at all,” recalled Demeter, a left-handed-hitting, redshirt junior from Dos Pueblos High School.
Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso greeted him at home plate with an emotional embrace. He knew just how hard Demeter had worked to get back on the field after his previous season was lost to surgeries on both hips.
“Couldn’t be more happy for Dustin,” he said. “It was a great welcome back.”
Trapasso figured to lose Demeter again to this month’s Major League Baseball Draft, acknowledging that he was “ready to play professionally.” But then the entire season was lost in early March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all collegiate sports competition.
It also wiped out this summer’s Minor League Baseball season, forcing a detour in the baseball journey of Trapasso’s 6-foot-2 third baseman.
“We were going to have a really good season,” Demeter said. “We had some good arms and bats, and we were really rolling at the time.
“Having it all interrupted like that was such a huge bummer.”
But that’s led to a summer in Tulsa, Okla. where he’s playing with younger brother Davy in an informal circuit known as the Sandlot League.
At least that lost season at Hawaii has been followed by rediscovered youth.
“It’s awesome being on the field with Davy again,” Demeter said. “It’s like we’re back in high school.
“It’s super-cool out here. The teams are thrown together and it’s a pretty fun league.”
The fun included another home run a few nights ago. It wasn’t as romantically dramatic as the first one this year, but Demeter will take it.
“It feels good to be back in the box and playing ball again,” he said. “This is the best I’ve felt in a long time. I feel really flexible and strong and mobile.
“The hips were a nagging injury for a long time. I started feeling it as soon as I got to college.”
Demeter underwent surgery on both hips, two months apart, after “feeling something pop” while playing in a summer-ball game two years ago with Canada’s Victoria HarbourCats.
“It was like six months of rehab, four-to-five hours a day, five days a week,” he recalled. “It was a grueling process, for sure. But looking back, it was really good for me.
“Cleaning out my hips with those surgeries have really helped me fire them harder to get that extra torque with my swings.”
Demeter had a chance to go pro after high school. He batted .374 with 20 extra-base hits including six homers for a Dos Pueblos team that advanced to the 2016 CIF-Southern Section Division II semifinals. A few weeks later, the Miami Marlins selected him in the 38th round of the MLB Draft despite his commitment to Hawaii.
“I don’t regret that decision even though I didn’t get drafted this year,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of good people and I’ve had a lot of good experiences at Hawaii. I love my coaching staff. I’ve got no regrets.”
Demeter has batted .276 in 110 games over three seasons at Hawaii, playing every infield position except first base.
He had been projected to go in this month’s draft. The coronavirus, however, prompted Major League Baseball to reduce the rounds from 40 to just five while capping free-agent contracts at just $20,000. With no Minor League Baseball this summer, there was no need for clubs to sign anyone but the top prospects.
“I’ve gotten a few calls but haven’t been offered anything,” Demeter said. “My sense is that they’re only going to be making a few free-agent deals, so I’m not expecting anything.”
He returned to the Goleta home of his parents, Dave and Donna Demeter, four months ago when Hawaii’s campus was closed. He kept his swing sharp by taking batting practice at Dos Pueblos with former teammates Peter Appel and D.J. Sharpe. He also drove to Santa Ynez for some strength conditioning.
“My uncle has a barn with some weights, so I was going up three, four, five times a week,” he said.
Demeter headed for Oklahoma earlier this month after receiving an invitation from his brother’s Sandlot League team to replace an injured player. They’re living with their cousin, Isaac Coffey, who is taking the summer off from baseball after having pitched and played infield this spring for Oral Roberts University.
“It’s been a lot of fun, hanging out with each other like the old days,” Demeter said. “We’re all good buddies.
“Davy is really raking it — he’s a beast — and they’re having me play everywhere. A little bit of outfield, a little infield. Pro teams like guys who can play multiple positions, so I figure this will be a strength for me.”
He plans to return to Hawaii in late August to take the last few classes required for his sociology degree. He’ll then play one more season with the Rainbow Warriors with hopes of more to follow in pro baseball.
“I’ll be 23 and my contract leverage will be gone, but the money really doesn’t matter to me now,” Demeter said. “I just want to keep playing ball.”