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Hall of Famer DiFelice recalls BHS playing days

For Major League catcher Mike DiFelice, Monday, Jan. 29, was a special homecoming as a former Volunteer and ex-Bulldog.

This former Bearden High School standout (Class of 1987) and All-SEC catcher for Tennessee (1989-91) who has caught for seven Major League teams was inducted into the Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame during the annual UT banquet Jan. 29 at Knoxville Marriott.

Recalling his BHS playing days while brushing off talk of personal accolades as a Bulldog, “I played a little bit of everywhere,” DiFelice said. “I played third base, but I was pretty much a pitcher in high school, adding that “growing up I had caught a little bit but mainly was a pitcher.”

Then Bulldog head coach Gene Hill “was an influence on my pitching career,” DiFelice said of an influence that carried over to UT as an effective relief pitcher. “It was good to see coach Hill today.

“Doctor Jones — his son, David Jones played high school with us — and he did all the summer leagues and stuff. Those guys were influences for me at Bearden High School and kinda helped me go on to college.”

Despite a spirited rivalry with Farragut, “I guess my Farragut connection is I married a Farragut girl,” DiFelice said about his wife, Tish, a 1991 graduate of FHS.

Never crossing paths in high school, “I met her after I was done with Tennessee [in the mid-1990s],” DiFelice said.

“No, I didn’t know him [in high school], I’m younger,” Tish quickly added. The couple’s daughters are Grace, 8, and Hannah, 5.

Recalling the rivalry with Farragut, “It was pretty big,” DiFelice said. “I grew up in Georgia so I came to Tennessee right at my first year of high school. For me, that Bearden-Farragut stuff was not really something that I was familiar with.

However, “After being there a couple of years, as you go to high school, you realize there’s a lot of bragging rights,” he added.

As for superiority in his four years versus the Admirals, “We were pretty good, I think we kinda came out on top,” DiFelice said. “I think we won most of those games. Now we didn’t win one football game while I was there, Farragut got the best of us in football.”

DiFelice recalled his alumni bond with the Bearden program through former BHS baseball skipper Bill Permakoff. “We used to send some gear out there and support the school as much as I could,” DiFelice said, adding he’s eager to rekindle a close bond with the Bulldog program.

Still a Major Leaguer, “I’m going to be going to spring training with the New York Mets,” DiFelice said. “I’m going to play as long as I can until they rip my uniform off.”

Remembering a highlight from his Major League career, “The funny thing is the first inning I ever caught in the Major Leagues [St. Louis Cardinals] was with Rick Honeycutt, he was my pitcher,” the ex-Bulldog said about catching another former Vol All-American.

Honeycutt, pitching coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers, attended the banquet in which Dodger Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda was featured speaker.

“It’s been a great ride, it’s nice to be able to look back on it,” DiFelice said. “I’ve always been a team player, never worried too many times about individual accomplishments.

But on his Hall of Fame night, “It’s nice to be singled out every once in a while.”


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