Summer 2024

Auburn baseball star Sonny DiChiara thriving after arduous health, faith journey

Sonny DiChiara is having a breakout season and making a case to be the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. But his baseball career almost came to a halt — multiple times. It’s been a long journey to get to where he is now, and his faith in God is stronger because of it.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

The Auburn star infielder endured a serious health scare when he was young, and numerous significant injuries along the way in high school and college led him on a path from doubting God to giving his life to Him and getting baptized in college.

“For God and For Ever,” DiChiara wrote on Twitter in January 2020 after getting baptized. “Best moment of my life getting baptized with my momma.”

It took years to understand the trials he had to endure, though. It dates all the way back to July 2012, when he found out he had a chiari malformation — a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal, according to Mayo Clinic. He underwent a procedure to relieve pressure from his brain on top of his spinal cord to stop brain fluid from leaking in. If it got any worse, he risked paralysis, incurable migraines, and other complications.

As a freshman at Hoover High School in Hoover, Alabama, he played a full season of junior varsity baseball and remained healthy. He played well enough for head coach Adam Moseley to add him to the varsity roster for the playoffs. It was when he got to 10th grade, though, that — as he explained in a video with Samford Athletics in 2020 — everything started “hitting the fan.”

He was pitching on a rainy day and slipped on the mound, causing his back to arch and crack in three different places. He was out the rest of his sophomore season.

“That was really tough,” DiChiara said in the video. “That’s when I really grew with Coach Moseley.”

That relationship with his coach proved to be life-changing one.

Later that year in the fall, when he was a junior, DiChiara was back on the field playing in a travel tournament. He’s able to admit now that he rushed back on the field too quickly. On top of that, he was back on the mound pitching — his first time since he’d hurt his back in the spring. This time, he tore his UCL and required Tommy John surgery.

“That really, right there, made me question my faith a lot,” he said. “I was just asking God, ‘Like, man, what’s going on?’ This is going to be the third or fourth year in a row where I’ve had something major going on. It just made me think, ‘What’s next? What’s going to happen to me next? What injury am I going to get next?'”

Unfortunately for DiChiara, there was indeed another injury. He was, however, able to play a healthy senior season. Although his high school career didn’t go nearly how he envisioned it, he was just happy to be on the field and have a healthy season.

“That was really what motivated me,” he said. “Like, I’m back. Nothing’s going to stop me. I’m invincible now. We came up short my senior year. We lost the first round of the playoffs. That hurt, but I was just more proud of the fact that I stayed healthy and was there for the whole season and for all the guys.”

Despite his injuries, DiChiara was one of the highest rated high school players in Alabama and was even rated as the No. 14 first baseman in the country by Perfect Game. Still, he didn’t think anyone would want to take a chance on him with his injury history. Samford University (Homewood, Alabama) coach Casey Dunn did.

After a healthy autumn of workouts with the team, however, injury struck once again, this time a gruesome ankle injury right at the end of the fall. DiChiara tore five ligaments, including three “major” ligaments, he said. He didn’t realize at first how bad it was. The doctor more or less told him he was amazed his ankle still seemed somewhat intact.

“He told me it basically should be floating,” DiChiara said. “That hit me hard.”

Those feelings of anger toward God were back.

“I was just like, ‘Man, come on,'” he said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on? Why? Why again? Why again?’ This surgery definitely hit me the hardest out of any of them.”

He described the fall of 2019 as a “circus” for him.

“I lost my mind, really,” DiChiara said. “I lost who I was. It was hard rolling around campus on a scooter just looking at other people, like, just angry at the world, angry at yourself and, more importantly, angry at God. Still questioning, ‘What are You doing to me? Like, I didn’t deserve this. I just had a great season and You’re going to put me down again.'”

At his senior banquet at Hoover, he received a Bible as a gift from Coach Moseley — the Competitor’s Bible, which is tailored toward athletes — already filled with verses highlighted for him. DiChiara figured the aftermath of this latest injury was as good a time as any to finally open it up.

“I always had it in my room; never picked it up,” he said. “But I looked at it and decided I was going to pick it up that day. I picked it up, read it, and I just kind of teared up reading it because I was like, ‘How could you let yourself get this far and still just question Him?’ I don’t want to put it all on my high school coach, but he kind of led me to receiving God and getting baptized.”

DiChiara transferred last August to Auburn for his senior season, where he’s healthy and crushing the ball. His .436 average leads the SEC, as does his .842 slugging percentage, his .597 on-base percentage, and his 50 walks. He’s also clubbed 13 home runs and 40 RBIs.

If the No. 19 Tigers (31-14) make a deep run in the College World Series, DiChiara figures to be a key part of it — as long as he can stay healthy. If history repeats itself, though, his response this time will be much different.

“If I get injured again — which, hopefully I don’t; hopefully I stay healthy — it’s going to be, ‘OK, I’m going to take this challenge and I’m going to overcome it,'” he said in the video. “It’s not going to be, like, ‘What the heck? Why is this happening again?’ It’s going to be, ‘All right, thank You, God. Thank You for putting me in this challenge again. I’m ready for it.'”

SS PODCAST: Liberty’s Derek Orndorff, Gray Betts on playing for audience of One
SS PODCAST: Ole Miss star Tim Elko on overcoming injuries, being light for Jesus
SS PODCAST: Oregon St. coach Mitch Canham on tragedy, finding purpose in Christ
Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps wins famed Golden Spikes Award: ‘I just try to be Christlike’
Mississippi St. wins College World Series, star Tanner Allen says ‘God is so good’