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Those who stay: Dom Jamett shines after three years of pine

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 12, 2014

Renato Jamett looked at his phone and couldn’t believe what he saw.

The Michigan baseball team was traveling to Evanston to take on Northwestern, and his son, Dom, after three years of being a bench player, was going to start.

Renato — by many accounts the team’s most loyal fan for the past three seasons — had opted not to make the drive, instead choosing to watch his daughter, a member of the Michigan rowing team, race at Belleville Lake.

But as he looked at his phone just after the meet, he was filled with a range of emotions. The father knew immediately he would regret missing the weekend baseball series, but in the best way imaginable.

Unlike two starts against Western Illinois and Central Michigan last year in which he filled in for injured players in less impactful games, the start against Evanston was a product of Jamett climbing his way up the depth chart. This was real, and maybe for good.

Dom had been cut, endured coaching changes and sat on the bench for nearly three seasons. At one point, he thought about walking away from the team altogether.

But after years of being knocked down, pushed aside and overlooked, Jamett has come back swinging. Dom finally rose through the ranks not just to become a starter, but to become the offensive sparkplug the Wolverines needed all along, making every second of hardship worthwhile.

* * *

It had to be somebody.

The 2012 Michigan baseball team had one too many players for the NCAA roster limit and had to cut a player days before its first game. The Wolverines had oversigned, and Jamett was the one who paid.

Growing up in nearby Grosse Pointe, Mich., Jamett had long dreamt of playing baseball for Michigan. But in a brief meeting with then-Michigan coach Rich Maloney, Jamett found out he was that somebody who had to go, and his dream would have to wait.

A four-year letterwinner in high school at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and state champion his senior year, Jamett had come to Michigan not only to play, but to win. Yet after six months of hard offseason training, he still wasn’t good enough, and he would be doing neither.

“It’s definitely one of the more difficult things I had to deal with,” Dom said. “I spent the season off the team, but (Maloney) said he always wanted me around the program, so I spent that spring just getting stronger.”

Humbled like never before, Dom took the challenge head-on. Unable to take at-bats with the team, Dom put more focus on physical and mental preparation, hoping someday his opportunity would come.

Despite the efforts, Dom’s dream still looked like a long shot. Then-sophomore catcher Cole Martin had exceeded expectations, leading Dom to consider transferring to other schools.

But Maloney left Michigan before any decisions were made, stepping down as the Wolverines’ coach to return to Ball State. The Athletic Department named Erik Bakich as the team’s new head coach, and the youngest skipper in Division I baseball preached energy, enthusiasm and championships. Dom was sold.

“The tone of the press conference he had when he was introduced was so positive,” Jamett said. “He had a plan and vision of what he wanted Michigan baseball to be. I believed in what he was saying and wanted to be a part of it.”

After a year full of work but low on dividends, Dom was sticking it out.

***

Dom believed in Bakich, and the first-year head coach returned the favor. Back on board with the Wolverines, he was awarded a roster spot the following season.

However, with Martin still shining behind the plate, the dream seemed to end there. In the 2013 campaign, Jamett accumulated just 13 at-bats in 60 games, never contributing in the way he envisioned.

“It’s definitely not easy being on the bench,” he said. “Everyone wants to be on the field, but sometimes you have to recognize that it’s just not your time right away. I understood what my role was in being a leader in the dugout and keeping the energy up.”

Keeping his head high, Dom continued to bring energy and work ethic to the field each day. The efforts didn’t go unnoticed by Bakich, but a harsh reality was sinking in: A good attitude doesn’t win baseball games.

“A year ago, I don’t know if I would’ve told you I ever thought he would play in this program,” Bakich said. “He was essentially a non-factor in the games he did appear in, with just a few token at-bats here and there.”

Another year passed, and the idea of Dom — now a junior — in the lineup became more and more foreign. When Martin couldn’t throw due to a pectoral injury, Dom remained on the bench as freshman standout Harrison Wenson asserted himself as the backup catcher.

Still relegated to dugout duties, the veteran realized that if his name were called, failure would ensure it would be the last time.

In order to be ready once his chance came, Dom began taking mental at-bats. While others on the team faced off against pitchers, he envisioned doing the same. Others on the team did the same, but Dom — like in all areas of his game — went all-out with his approach.

“During the games, whenever the DH came up, I would put on my batting gloves, helmet, and get a bat and actually take that at-bat with the hitters in the box,” he said. “I’m not in the game, but I’m getting those mental reps, so when I do get in the game, nothing has changed.”

The preparation came into play on May 3, when Dom was named the starter for that afternoon’s game against Northwestern. The previous night, Michigan had blown a two-run lead to the last-place Wildcats, the worst pitching team in the conference.

Perhaps more alarming was the fact that the bottom six hitters went 2-for-17 with no runs. Outside of the top three hitters, the entire team was struggling at the plate. With a spot in the Big Ten Tournament still on the line, Bakich was running out of options.

The coach took a chance, putting long-time bench players but dedicated leaders Dom and Kevin White in the game for a crucial series. Years of showing up early and competing in practice day in and day out had paid off.

“(Dom)’s always won,” Bakich said. “He won in high school, he’s a winning kid, he’s going to win for the rest of his life in whatever he does.

“He’s one of our hardest workers and most selfless players, and he deserves every bit of success he sees.”

When his name was called, Dom knew this was it.

After three seasons of sticking it out on the bench, he had a chance to shine.

***

After 158 games, the at-bat didn’t disappoint.

Working a 1-2 count in the top of the first, Dom fouled two pitches off to stay alive. The sixth pitch was more to his liking, and he drove a single to right, eventually coming around to score. The next inning, he reached on an error, scoring again in what would become an 18-6 rout of the Wildcats.

But Jamett was just getting started. In his first week as a full-time starter, Jamett went 7-for-16 at the plate. More notably, the Wolverines went 4-0 in those games.

“What you’re seeing now is that he got an opportunity,” Bakich said. “We needed a spark, he took advantage of it and he has sparked us ever since. Everyone, on the bench, in the field, in the stands, really likes what they’re seeing out of Dom Jamett.”

Even with each game being critical to Michigan’s success, Bakich’s excitement has nothing to do with the scores. Bakich is most excited to watch a player who once wasn’t good enough to be on the team rise back up to become a leader of the Wolverines, being voted as a member of the team’s Leadership Council by his teammates.

“You see it in all facets of his game: you see it in the way he catches, you see it in the way he throws, you see it in the way he hits, you see it in his power, he’s a guy who has turned himself into a player that every team wants,” Bakich said.

Added junior left-hander and Dom’s roommate, Trent Szkutnik: “He’s the perfect example of a Michigan Man. He was cut, but that didn’t stop him from his goal. He went outside of the program, got better and worked out and got into great shape. Now for the past two years, he’s the first guy at the field, always working hard and helping guys out.”

The team’s designated hitter for the foreseeable future, Jamett’s journey has come full circle. The veteran has played nearly every role imaginable, from cut to captain, and after years of watching others, has extra appreciation for his latest one.

“I look at it as, ‘Those who stay will be champions,’ as Bo Schembechler said,” Jamett said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of this program, and it was just about making the team the next year, staying involved and helping the team in any way that I can.

“No matter what the role, it’s all about helping Michigan win a championship. Earlier in the season my role was a bullpen catcher and being an energy guy, but now it’s just trying to put together quality at-bats and get on base.”

Even with the role changes over the years, Szkutnik has always seen the same Dom. Now one of the older players on the team, Szkutnik hopes others aspire to follow Dom’s lead, regardless of role.

“When you don’t get playing time right away, that doesn’t have to be the end of it,” Szkutnik said. “The younger players look up to Dom, and see how he did it.

“He’s always working, and he never complains. Before games he could catch five bullpen sessions before the game even started, and you’d never hear him complain about it, and that’s something a lot of the younger guys have learned from.”

In two weeks, Michigan will try to surprise seven other teams and win the Big Ten Tournament. Odds are slim, but many expect that this year’s young talent will mature into a true contender by next season. As a senior who will have seen it all, Dom brings a unique skill set that can’t be coached.

“Intangibles,” Bakich said. “Work ethic, character, makeup, toughness, selflessness, energy, those intangibles that are the reason he’s still on this team are now the same intangibles that have turned him into a player and are going to factor in us winning championships.”

***

Renato Jamett had learned his lesson about missing games.

After making the trip to Central Michigan last Tuesday to watch his son, the proud father beamed as he saw his son go 3-for-5 with two RBI in a 7-1 win.

Like his son, the elder Jamett has spent nearly three seasons watching the team. But Renato inspired Dom to not only stay in Ann Arbor, but to put the same team that cut him before himself.

“When he can’t make games but calls me about them, he doesn’t ask how I’m doing,” Dom said. “He asks how the team’s doing, and how’s the morale, because in reality, that’s what any success comes down to.”

Knocked down, pushed aside and overlooked for three years, Dom stuck it out the entire time. Now, he has a chance to lead the Wolverines to championships to come, making every second of hardship worthwhile.


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