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Former Saint Leo star Dina a big hit in minors

A reporter recently placed a phone call to the minor-league St. Lucie Mets, looking for information on Allen Dina, the former Saint Leo College outfielder.

I'm looking for information on Allen Dina.

"Oh, he's my favorite player."

Why?

"Because he's terrific."

Why?

"Because he's talented, and he's pleasant, and he's smart."

Are you his mom, his sister or his girlfriend?

"No (laughing), I'm just the team photographer."

Dina has been leaving quite an impression no matter where he has gone or whom you ask. After a senior season at Saint Leo in 1998 in which he was named Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year and hit .484 with 9 home runs, 56 RBI and a Division II-record 15 triples, Dina is tearing up the pros and making fans and believers along the way.

So why were there doubters?

Because Dina was 24 years old when he signed with New York right before the draft last season. The Stratford, Conn., native played for Housatonic (Conn.) Community College and spent two years away from baseball before playing his final two collegiate seasons for the Monarchs.

His ability and production were unquestioned, but his age was. Was it too late for him to adjust to wood bats and the rigors of pro ball?

Apparently not. In 85 games this season with St. Lucie of the Class A Florida State League, Dina, a centerfielder, batted .344 in 343 at-bats, with 118 hits, 65 runs, 47 RBI and 12 home runs. That earned him a promotion to Class AA Binghamton.

His coach at Saint Leo, Ed Stabile, said he isn't surprised by anything Dina has done in the pros, from his winning over fans with his engaging personality to his superb hitting.

Dina's power numbers have gone way up since his junior year at Saint Leo, when he had just two home runs.

"He has gotten a lot stronger. That's why he was a late bloomer," Stabile said. "He got on a serious weight program, and he learned how to drive balls."

As for the St. Lucie team photographer, JoAnne Colenzo, she was so convinced Dina was going to succeed quickly that before the season she photographed him in two uniforms _ St. Lucie's and Binghamton's.

"I've seen a lot of players," Colenzo said. "It's obvious this guy is something special and that he wasn't going to be around here long."

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