LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA (WRCB)- The road to the major leagues is different for every aspiring baseball player, marked with obstacles and detours along the way.
For Jamie Dismuke, the dream is still alive, although he now spends his time helping others make it to "The Show."
Dismuke, who has lived in Chattanooga since his time as a Lookout in the 1990s, is now a hitting coach for the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta's AAA team. Each spring, he travels with the big league club to their spring training complex at Disney Wide World of Sports near Orlando.
At 42, he's a big brother, even a father figure to players whose names most baseball fans don't now recognize. But with Dismuke's help, soon they just might.
"Ernesto Mejia. Andrelton Simmons. Joe Terdoslavich. Man, these guys are going to be good," Dismuke said after a pre-game batting practice session this week.
For now, they're highly-touted prospects wearing high uniform numbers like 67, 71, and 73, signifying their slight chance of joining Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones on the big league roster. Their natural gifts have gotten them to major league camp, but it's up to Dismuke and other coaches to correct a flaw in their swing, their stance or their footwork that could be a career changer.
With the patience of an elementary teacher, the always-smiling Dismuke places buckets full of baseballs on tees, reinforcing the basics to 20-year-olds who are looking for every little edge to help meet their goals.
"I love spring training," he says, "the beginning, anyway. By the end of the month, everybody's ready to play games that count."
The relaxed, everybody-plays atmosphere is in sharp contrast to the dog days of August, when injuries, fatigue and heat take their toll on every team. If Dismuke does his job well, the "no-names," most of whom will be assigned to the minor leagues later this month, will be ready to step up when a star player has to go on the disabled list.
During his playing career, Dismuke came close to getting that shot, but never quite made it. The Syracuse, New York, native starred at Corcoran High School in his hometown, becoming a 12th round draft pick for the Cincinnati Reds in 1989.
In nine years in the minors, Dismuke batted .277, playing over 800 games as a first baseman. But the major league Reds had Hal Morris firmly entrenched at first base, limiting Dismuke's opportunities for advancement. He played in 1993, 1995 and 1997 for the Lookouts, with his best numbers in '93, when he hit .306 with 20 home runs and 91 runs batted in.
After his playing days were over, Dismuke worked in the Reds organization from 2002-2008, joining the Gwinnett Braves in 2009.
It was during his time in Chattanooga he met his wife of fifteen years, Tammy, a popular local singer. During the offseason, he enjoys spending time with Tammy and their two-year-old son James. The family attends the World's Church of the Living God, where Tammy is among the standout voices in the choir.
The family's offseason time can be brief and precious, because Dismuke also coaches winter baseball in Venezuela with the Los Caribes team.
"I'm lucky to make a living doing what I love, but it's tough being away from Tammy and the toddler," Dismuke said.
Dismuke is close to Braves first base coach Terry Pendleton, and he enjoyed a brief stint as a big-league Braves coach during the final month of the 2010 season. So while he spends long spring days analyzing the swings of young players, helping them realize their dreams, he knows his own hard work could also pay off with a major league life of his own.
In the not too distant future, as coaching vacancies occur, Jamie Dismuke is a leading candidate to make it to the big leagues once and for all.