You would think it would be a cold day in Miami before a 40-something former jock who hadn’t skated in more than 10 years would suit up and hit the ice for the Fayetteville FireAntz.
    Or maybe you believe you’d see snow in south Florida before you’d see that same “old man” come out of retirement after a 20-year layoff to play left field for the Fayetteville Swampdogs?
    OK then, wash off the Coppertone and put on the snow parka because Miami Subs’ owner Jimmy Diamantopoulos, 41, has done both, playing with the FireAntz for four years and spending two seasons suiting up for the Swampdogs.{mosimage}
    Diamantopoulos said his involvement with the local sports teams — playing against and with young men sometimes half his age — started out as a “joke.”
    “I played hockey in Canada for a lot of years and baseball in college,” said Diamantopoulos, who sports a Greek name and heritage, but was raised in Canada. “For a promotional thing the owners said they were going to bring me out of retirement and do this and do that ... Come on out and skate for us for fun. It was a promotional night.”
    While Diamantopoulos goes out on the ice and diamond to put on a show for the home fans, he’s also serious about his part-time play. As a member of the FireAntz, he scored a goal in a shootout; as a member of the Swampdogs, he’s had five-at bats, recording a sacrifice, getting on base twice via a pair of errors, and smacking one ball to the warning track.
    “We all thought it was leaving the park,” said Diamantopoulos, smiling broadly as he sat in one of the booths at the Skibo Road restaurant he has owned for four years.
    And he brings in a crowd, too. Last year, the FireAntz sold 5,000 tickets after promoting Diamantopoulos’ appearance on the ice, though a last-minute glitch kept him from skating that night.
And you better believe Kevin MacNaught, owner and general manager of the FireAntz, knows a good promotion when he sees one.
    “A lot of the local Greek community comes here to see Jimmy play,” said MacNaught. “He’s a local businessman who has shown a great interest in hockey, both playing and coming to the games.”
    MacNaught said he had to jump through a few hoops to get the OK for him to play hockey in the Southern Professional Hockey League, but he’s glad to have him and plans on having more promotional nights featuring Diamantopoulos.
    “We raised a lot of money for the local Greek church,” said MacNaught.
And how do his teammates react to playing with a man who in the sports vernacular is considered a senior citizen?
    “The players love it,” said Diamantopoulos. “They see this older guy coming and playing with them. Obviously, they put in their jokes — they put canes in my locker and put a wheelchair one time. It’s all fun ... I like it.”
    FireAntz goalie Chad Collins also likes it.
    “He does OK for an old man,” said Collins. “It’s really fun to have him out there. And he can play.”
In addition to his age, Diamantopoulos plays with a physical handicap: He lost 15 percent of one of his leg muscles in a car accident while living in Pittsburgh about 15 years ago. And then there are the common aches and pains he suffers through in the days after a match. However, he limits the big hurt by practicing twice a week at Fort Bragg’s Cleland Multipurpose Sports Complex with current and former FireAntz players, as well as the Army club team, the Fayetteville Dragons.
    His competitiveness on the field and ice is indicative of his drive in the kitchen. When he came to Fayetteville four years ago, Miami Subs — a southern-based franchise — had the worst sales in North Carolina. Now, it leads the state in sales; he attributes some of his success to his involvement in baseball and hockey.
    “It adds to my business but it adds to their business, too,” said Diamantopoulos. “Customers bring pictures and I’ve signed thousands of them. I keep stuff here for them. A lot of people come here with the families to see me.”
    He hasn’t played with the local indoor football franchise, the Fayetteville Guard, but he also hasn’t completely slammed the door on the idea.{mosimage}
    “Everybody’s wishing for that but I’ve never played football,” joked Diamantopoulos. “I could probably do a little kick or could get the ball and kneel down before the big guys hit me.”
So, the million-dollar question remains: Does he intend to keep playing hockey and baseball?
    “Everybody asks me if I’m going to keep doing it and I say as long as I can still do it, let me do it,” said Diamantopoulos.

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