As his team warmed up for its Wheels Baseball Invitational opener Wednesday at South Pointe, Georgia Premier Academy coach Gene Reynolds motioned to his second baseman. Reynolds told Dimerson Nunez that a doctor was in the dugout to check out his sore knee.
When Nunez, a native of Panama spending his first months in the United States, reached the dugout, his mouth opened. First in shock, then a wide smile.
"I never expected to be his doctor, but I was his doctor today," said Dimerson Nunez's father, also named Dimerson Nunez.
Nunez's dad, twin sister, Saypri, and mother, Maritza Miranda, were all waiting for Nunez. He hasn't seen them in two months since leaving Panama to begin his American adventure in pursuit of a college baseball scholarship.
"I really wasn't expecting that," the younger Dimerson said in the dugout after his team dropped the Charlotte Royals in their first game of the Wheels tournament at South Pointe.
Nunez's docter, er, father, played pro baseball for many years in Asia, Mexico and the American minor leagues with the Kansas City and Atlanta farm systems. He wanted his son, who graduated high school last December, to get acclimated to the United States while trying to land a college scholarship. The younger Dimerson has been in the U.S. the last few months playing with Reynolds' Georgia Premier Academy team. He hails from the lush northwestern province of Panama called Chiriqui and lamented the colder weather in the U.S., just one of the many novelties he's encountered. It's been a whirlwind experience, with baseball the only constant.
"A lot of the guys from other countries graduate a lot younger than kids in the U.S. typically do, so it gives themselves a year to mature physically and be ready for college," said Reynolds.
Reynold's program will be familiar to many that have followed the Wheels tournament the last five years. Georgia Premier Academy previously operated under the name "Faith Baptist" and has won the tournament several times. Reynolds' team is always loaded with talented Caribbean and Latin American players.
The renamed program has a new financial backer who built a facility in Statesboro, Ga., that includes dormitories for the program's many foreign players. Players from the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Panama and other countries, including the United States, take classes at a nearby private school or online and play baseball.
Nunez heard about Reynolds' program from several other Panamanian players that previously played for Reynolds. He and his family were joined Wednesday in the South Pointe bleachers by two other families supporting Georgia Premier Academy, likely a first for Reynolds' program, which almost never has fans in the stands for its games due to its international roster.
"This is the most fans we've played in front of in a couple years probably," said Reynolds, laughing.
Georgia Premier Academy again looks like a strong contender for the Wheels championship. Reynolds has a deep and talented team, including junior pitcher Daniel Espino, who is committed to LSU and ranked in the top-20 prospects of the 2019 class. Espino has been clocked at 96 miles per hour.
And Reynolds' team has a smooth-fielding second baseman in Nunez. He played well in front of his parents, going 2-for-3 at the plate with a first inning RBI triple.
"Thank God it happened. I was really trying to focus and play," Dimerson said afterward.
Reynolds constantly harped to his players to see pitches deep into the zone and go opposite field with the ball off the Royals' soft-tossing left-handed pitcher. Nunez was one of the few that managed to do so every plate appearance. Nunez doesn't have the size or eye-popping talent of some of his teammates, but Reynolds thinks his intelligent infielder could play anywhere from a low-major Division I school, on down the college ladder.
"Whatever God decides," said Nunez's father. "We're looking for a good scholarship but we put everything in God's hands. He's the guy that's gonna best decide where to play for Dimerson."