Calvin College

Croatia trip changes Calvin catcher

As a catcher, Tony DiLaura is accustomed to dropping down to block pitches in the dirt or blocking the plate with a speeding runner barreling down the line. But for DiLaura, no task in baseball could compare to what he experienced last summer when he traveled to Croatia with an Athletes-in-Action baseball team.

"My trip with Athletes-in-Action was one of the biggest highlights of my life but it was also one of the most trying periods of my life," he said. DiLaura began the journey with two weeks of training with his team in Florida. He then spent more than 32 hours without sleep flying to Europe and then taking a train to Croatia.

"The travel was tough," said DiLaura. "We often went without much sleep and carried heavy bags of equipment wherever we went but at the same time, it was a wonderful situation because I found out so much about myself and my relationship with Jesus Christ."

Upon arriving in Croatia, DiLaura's team was greeted with buildings riddled with bullet holes and bomb damage from its recent war with neighboring Serbia. "We stayed one mile away from the warline where all the fighting had taken place," said DiLaura. "The homes we stayed in were damaged by the war but the spirit of the people living in them was amazingly upbeat. They were extremely nice and open to hearing our testimony."

A native of Grosse Pointe, Mich. and a graduate of Grosse Pointe North High School, DiLaura began his journey to Calvin on a tip from a friend. "I heard about Calvin from a friend and decided to come for a visit and I really liked the school," he said. "I wanted to go to a smaller Christian school and Calvin was definitely the right choice."

As a freshman on the Calvin baseball team, DiLaura spent the majority of his time in the outfield. Midway through his sophomore season however, DiLaura grabbed the starting catcher's job for good. "I love catching. It's the best position in baseball in my opinion," said DiLaura. "As a catcher you can see the whole field, call all of the shots and get dirty blocking balls. It's a lot of fun."

DiLaura finished his sophomore season with a .279 batting average and a solid fielding percentage of .989 to earn honorable mention recognition from the MIAA. As a junior, he enjoyed the best year of his career, batting .330 with 17 RBI's and a .988 fielding percentage to earn All-MIAA First Team honors. As a team, Calvin set a school record for victories in a season, finishing 20-12 overall and in second place in the MIAA with a 12-6 league mark. "It was a special season," said DiLaura. "We had a lot of good things going for us and every player showed up ready to win in every game."

As a senior this spring, DiLaura slumped a bit at the plate, batting .205 but he was again stellar behind the plate, committing just four errors in 138 total chances for a fielding percentage of .971, as Calvin finished tied for fourth place in the league. For his efforts, he again earned honorable mention recognition from the MIAA.

An education major with a concentration in mathematics, DiLaura will student teach next fall. In the meantime, he's remained active as Young Life counselor at Forest Hills Central High School. "After I came back from my Athletes-in-Action trip, I wanted to stay involved in some type of ministry," said DiLaura. "Young Life has been a huge blessing. I've had a wonderful time with it and the kids are great. I love working with kids and I'm thinking about getting into youth ministry full-time after I graduate."