Gabrielle Cerasoli knows there is an entire fanbase that has grown to love her man, but that’s okay with her. The fiancée of Sonny DiChiara understands why the Auburn people feel that way.
Newly engaged, Cerasoli is from the Atlanta area and met DiChiara while they were both attending Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Cerasoli played volleyball and the school's small size is what ultimately brought the two together.
“I’m actually a year older than Sonny. I’m kind of a cougar. The athletics are super close at Samford,” Cerasoli said. “Everyone knows everyone because it’s such a small school. Me and my girlfriends were just really good friends with the baseball team. That’s who we all hung out with. We had to be there early for summer workouts every year, so we would get there around this time every summer.”
With DiChiara being a year younger, the pair actually met between his high school and college careers. Before they met, Cerasoli knew of him but hadn’t even imagined the idea of dating.
“I knew of him. It’s actually really funny,” Cerasoli said. “We knew that he was an incoming freshman, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s so cute. I should set him up with someone,’ and all this stuff in my head.”
The meetup that started things off was a game of beach volleyball between the volleyball team and a pair of outnumbered baseball players.
“It was just the two of them and all of us, so we met doing that,” Cerasoli said. “Then we went back to one of our friend’s apartments to grill hamburgers and stuff. He asked somebody else for my number that night.”
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A game of bowling with friends was what ultimately brought the two together. Losing badly to their friends, the pair gave up hopes of winning and decided they could just compete against each other.
A bet was established, and DiChiara ultimately won. He decided that night that his prize would be dinner a dinner date with Cerasoli. After their date, the couple officially began their relationship.
Following three years playing at Samford, DiChiara chose to enter the transfer portal when head coach Casey Dunn left the program to accept the same job at the school's neighbor, UAB. With the future at Samford uncertain, Auburn ultimately snagged three transfers from its northern neighbor.
“He talked to me and talked to his parents and said ‘You know, I really feel like I should go into the transfer portal and kind of see what else is out there for me,’” Carasoli said. “I wasn’t really scared about doing long distance because we’ve been together so long that it’s just like ‘Cool. Okay. We’ll figure it out.’ I was more worried about ‘Okay, what happens if nobody reaches out to him?’”
That wasn’t an issue, though, and DiChiara got a number of phone calls before ultimately deciding to settle on the Plains. He hit the portal the day of the College World Series finale, and his first offer was a big one.
“Mississippi State reached out to him first, on the day that they won the College World Series. He was like, ‘Hey Sonny, I want you’ and Sonny was like, ‘Go win a College World Series championship and call me later.’ I thought that was pretty neat," Cerasoli said. "Then Auburn reached out to him, either the same day or the very next day.”
Auburn head coach Butch Thompson and his staff knew what kind of athlete was on the table. They quickly made an offer and when the decision was made, they got their guy.
“Then he was kind of thinking, ‘Alright, where am I meant to go?’ We prayed about it and thought about it and he chose Auburn,” Cerasoli said. “I can’t imagine him being anywhere else. That was so amazing. Such a God thing. He was right where he needed to be.”
Cerasoli is a labor and delivery nurse in Birmingham, so she has a two-hour commute when her schedule has room for a game in Auburn. Her favorite moment of the season came at her first game of the year, where she got a feel for how popular DiChiara’s walkup song was.
“I can’t even remember who they were playing. I just remember the atmosphere. I was like ‘Wait, this is amazing,'” Cerasoli said. “People didn’t really get into it [at Samford], so I was like ‘I wonder what’s going to happen here at Auburn’ and then the whole—because it’s so much bigger than Samford—the whole stadium started clapping and I remember sitting there thinking ‘Oh my gosh. This is so fun. This is so cool.’”
DiChiara’s walkup song has been the same since his days at Hoover High School, but “Che La Luna” grew into an instant hit once he arrived at Plainsman Park. The tune practically signaled a home run.
Another iconic moment of the season was DiChiara’s hometown home run in the Hoover Met during Auburn’s lone SEC Tournament game. His girlfriend may have been nearby, but she was busy at work and had to get the news after the fact.
“I was at work…in a delivery,” Cerasoli said. “My phone, it was over on the desk or whatever and it was blowing up. I was like, ‘What is going on? I wonder what happened.’ Then when I came out of the delivery, I was looking at it and was like, ‘Oh! He hit a home run!’”
After elimination in Hoover, Auburn was selected as a national seed and hosted its own Regional, but part of that meant that no walkup songs were played. The Auburn faithful took that to heart.
Fans in the outfield brought speakers and multiple times throughout the weekend, “Che La Luna”played as DiChiara came to the plate. There was an opportunity to clap along during a rain delay (that at last deferred the championship game to the next day) during which DiChiara stepped out of the dugout to acknowledge the attention.
“It kind of struck me, ‘Woah. This is bigger than I would’ve imagined’,” Cerasoli said. “I loved that. I think it’s really cool how it took off.”
That outpouring of support didn’t stop in Auburn. The Tigers took down Oregon State for a Super Regional championship and then hopped on a plane to Omaha. The Auburn faithful made their way there as well.
A speaker was brought to Tiger Walk at the team hotel, and sure enough, “Che La Luna” was blasting through the lobby as the guys loaded the bus on the way to Charles Schwab Field.
“That actually made me start crying. I was going home because I had to work the next day, on Monday,” Cerasoli said. “When they started playing it, I was like ‘Oh my gosh. This is probably the last game I’m going to see him play in college,’ so I was super emotional.”
Auburn’s historic season came to an end after three games in Omaha, but the year will be remembered for quite some time. Players like DiChiara had countless contributions that reversed how the season was projected to end.
“That was, just in general, the most surreal year of my life,” Cerasoli said. “Not only watching everyone in college baseball fall in love with him as a player, but reading all of these articles about his character and how he’s so charismatic and fun and goofy and easygoing. That was mind-blowing to me.”
Throughout the season, DiChiara’s success and contagious smile brought a storm of media and fan love. His lone year at Auburn was one where everyone felt they were friends with the smiling first baseman.
“It made me want to cry, because it was so amazing that not only were these people falling in love with him because he hits home runs, but also because of who he is as a person,” Cerasoli said. “Nothing but gratitude to everyone who has followed him and supported him and been kind to him on social media and in person. Very, very thankful to everyone. It’s been very surreal.”
On Tuesday, DiChiara took a step to set their future in stone. After dinner together and right at sunset, he proposed at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. He had blindfolded Cerasoli for the drive, but the trip lasted longer than intended when rush hour traffic caused some issues.
“We were driving around and I was like, ‘Are we driving in circles? Where are we going?’ Turns out we were driving in circles,” Cerasoli said. “We were waiting for my roommate, who’s a photographer, to get there because she was stuck in traffic. We had been driving forever. And the whole time, I’m blindfolded, and he kept saying, ‘Put your head down so people don’t think I’m kidnapping you. Put a thumbs up out the window.'”
Despite the hiccup, the proposal was able to go as planned and the two are now happily engaged.
“It’s been very much discussed,” Cerasoli said. “Sonny and I can’t not tell each other what we got each other for Christmas, so it was not a surprise, but that didn’t make it any less fun.”
Regardless of where the future takes them, the couple’s joyful personalities will ensure the fame lasts. The reception on the Plains and beyond is a firm indication of that.
“We’d be eating at a restaurant, and people would come up and be like, ‘Hey, Sonny!’ and they’d shake his hand and kids would come up. It was the weirdest thing, and it kept growing more and more,” Cerasoli said. “I was like, ‘Okay, in Auburn, that’s one thing.’"
But the couple was hours from Auburn when they returned to Birmingham. What they found out is DiChiara is bigger than just the orange and blue he wore during his senior season.
"The first day he got home, we went and got some Taco Mama. This kid came up and was like, ‘Can I get a picture?’…Then we went to the movies and people came up to him and they were asking for pictures. I was like, ‘Who are we? Are you famous?’”
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