As a student at Holyoke Community College (HCC) in spring 2015, Tony Dismukes took on one of the most significant assignments of his life. He tried out for the Massachusetts college’s baseball team.
No ordinary college athlete, Dismukes was a 54-year-old, retired Navy veteran who owned a hardwood flooring business and worked at Bradley International Airport as an officer for the Transportation Security Administration. Plus, he already had a bachelor’s degree in resource management he had earned in the Navy. What did he need more college for?
Well, despite a lifelong involvement with baseball — playing in the Navy, coaching the varsity team at a high school where he taught technical education for five years, and serving in assistant coaching positions at Amherst College and Fitchburg State University and one summer for the North Adams Steeplecats — Dismukes felt stymied in pursuit of his dream job as a head college baseball coach.
Time and time again, athletic directors told him he had a blank spot on his baseball resume – he had never played college ball. Filling that gap was the only reason he enrolled at HCC.
“I always wanted to play,” Dismukes said at the time, “and I have this very small window of opportunity. I decided to give it my best shot.”
Back to school
That season, Dismukes played first base and pitched for the HCC Cougars. He practiced and played hard, picked up and lugged equipment, and listened and learned, from the coach, sure, but mostly from his teammates, all of them decades younger by a long stretch.
“I loved it,” he said. “It was great. I just remember having the camaraderie with the kids. That’s what I wanted. It was fantastic.”
His best shot turned out to be enough. After serving the HCC team in 2018 as, yet again, an assistant, HCC athletic director Tom Stewart hired Dismukes as head coach for the 2019 season.
“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this to come along,” said Dismukes, who prefers to be called Coach D. “It took me a long time, later in life, to find out what I wanted to do, but this is definitely what I love to do.”
Now 58, Dismukes has given up the flooring business – too hard on his aging knees – and traded his job at the TSA for one as a consumer technician at the Federal and Drug Administration, which allows him to work from his Belchertown home during the baseball season.
“This isn’t a full-time job,” he said of his new coaching position. “It’s a stipend, but it gets me in here. It’s my program, and I’m loving it. The kids are great. This is so fun.”
Still rounding the bases
Dismukes still plays baseball himself in the western Massachusetts 30-and-over league during the summer and recalls with characteristic joy the season he played on the HCC team.
During one game as the starting pitcher, he had a no-hitter going into the fourth inning — until he gave up a home run. He doesn’t credit the early inning success, though, to his having any great “stuff” on the mound.
“I was so slow they were just trying to kill the ball,” he said. “I loved it. It was great. And it paid off. I’m a head coach. I’m living my dream now. If I can just move into the teaching profession and coach, I could do this until I’m 90. That would be another story.”