Baseball slugger Nick Lombardi ’15 lands on second-team all-Ivy, majors in studio art

by Gayne Kalustian | 5/31/15 6:01pm

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by Annie Duncan / The Dartmouth

There’s an immediate quality to the appearance of Dartmouth baseball’s third baseman Nick Lombardi ’15 that tells his story in a second. He has an obvious gap in the coloring of the skin tone on his left wrist where the EvoShield he wears while playing baseball mutes the afternoon sun. A white TaylorMade visor pushes froths of hair out of his face and accentuates the leather-like skin on the back of his neck, shaded so dark it could only have come from weeks spent outside during the first “livable” weeks of the Hanover spring.

The accents on his white Nike high tops match the ones on his T-shirt and his visor — likely not an accident. But there’s a lived quality about his shoes. They are a little bit worn, a little bit dirty. He is a picture of an outdoorsman and athlete with an eye for color who does things, goes places, spends as many afternoons as possible taking in what little sun there is — and these Nikes, presumably hand-picked from his closet that reeks of a California native with Hawaiian shirts, Vans and baseball jerseys, have gone with him. His “work shirt” that he keeps next to his station in the senior workshop of the Black Family Visual Arts Center is from In-N-Out — the one, true mark of a Californian. Where you’re from, Lombardi said, is inseparable from who you are.

“You really gotta believe in your hometown,” he said. “Wherever that may be, that’s what made you. You have to stick to who you are, and part of stickin’ to who you are is stickin’ to where you’re from.”

Born and raised in Saugus, California, Nick “Mango” Lombardi is the son of a mechanic who knows “every little in and out of cars” and the grandson of a tinkerer. Lombardi has been playing baseball dating back to his earliest memories and has been tackling projects for just as long, ranging from a 22-foot painting of Kid Cudi to a table commissioned by the College, completed with the help of teammate and right-handed pitcher Chris England ’15. Now, just two weeks away from his last college final, the best of Lombardi’s artistic work is on display in the senior showcase at the Hopkins Center.

This year, he also made second-team all-Ivy and was named the athletic all-star at the Greek Letter Organizations and Societies awards two weeks ago. He was one of 30 candidates, nationwide, for the Senior CLASS award which aims to identify student athletes who are making positive impacts as leaders in their communities. Lombardi has been a starting varsity athlete for four years and slugged .399 for his career.

As a child, Lombardi was always creative, his mother Donna Lombardi said. If he had a bad baseball game, he would “disappear into his room” with the door closed and draw. He was the type of kid to construct the Millennium Falcon out of Legos or spend an afternoon digging out the backyard with his brother to build a putting green. The pair started many projects that dissipated into incompletion over time. The putting green project, Nick Lombardi said, only lasted about three hours.

“My brother and I, we were dreamers,” he said. “In the process, though, you learn little things over time and that’s how you start to know. You put together the frame for a minibike but never put the engine in or put the brakes system or wheels or tires or anything on, but you learn how to weld.”

When he first came to Dartmouth, Lombardi planned on studying engineering. After struggling through a term of physics, math and chemistry, he abandoned the hard sciences in favor of the fine arts, learning “10 times more” in his studio art classes than he ever did in his other classes.

“I thought about whether or not all that stress and headache was really worth it,” he said. “In the end you have something tangible that you’ve created instead of half-heartedly sitting in class, cramming for a midterm… You can’t cheat in studio art. It all comes from you.”

Lombardi said he spends many nights pulling all-nighters, except now in the company of the few other brave studio art majors. Jordan Craig ’15, another studio art major, said Lombardi is “untraditional in the studio art department” and brings a positive energy to the studio by being open to making friends with all the people he meets. When tasked with dressing in any outfit that represented him as a person, Craig said Lombardi showed up in a full suit, hair slicked back.

“He’s serious, but he’s always going to have fun with it,” she said.

Lombardi has another love in life — fishing. Most people in his hometown had speed boats, but his family had a fishing boat. Fishing was always his dad’s “thing,” and the people “came and went” while the fishing trips remained constant — an experience his dad could share with the people that he loved. When he has his own family, Lombardi said, he’ll introduce his love for the sport to them, all the way from the wake-ups before sunrise down to the sometimes fruitless hours spent on the water.

“The things I like in life are a testament to that I enjoy failing because of how rewarding it is when you don’t fail that one time,” Lombardi said. “You have so much more appreciation for something that’s not so easily obtained. It’s like baseball. You fail so often, and it’s not easy.”

Lombardi claims that there is no deeper meaning to his art. He makes what he thinks “looks cool.” The crown jewel of his senior showcase is the hood of a 1957 Impala that he painted black and pin-striped with intricate flares of color that rise and fall, disappear and reappear in waves and swirls that unfurl across the hood, which Lombardi found rusted and cast aside in a junkyard.

The curator of the senior exhibition, studio art professor Gerald Auten, decided to put the piece in the forefront of the exhibit so that passerbys might be drawn in by its dark contrast and coloring, wondering, as he did, what exactly it is that they’re looking at.

They’re looking, in one sense, at Nick Lombardi’s life.

While there may not be layers upon layers of intricate meaning — commentaries on the nature of human interaction in the technological era or subtle criticisms of public policy — there are themes in Lombardi’s work.A pop-out book frames an angler fish in a jagged-toothed cave. A painting he entitled “Family Portrait” depicts an abstract series of reflections of a 1967 Fastback, a 1957 T-Bird and a 1969 Challenger — the favorite cars of his dad, his grandfather and himself, respectively. The inspiration for the pin-striping on the hood, he said, was a sea anemone, and the love of cars taken directly from his paternal family line. He paints what he likes, but what he likes is inexorably tied to who he is, where he’s from and the people who have given shape to his life.

Having suited up for his last game in the Green and White, too, gives him a perspective on his life’s passions.

“I enjoy [baseball] for what it teaches, but that is kind of a formal understanding,” he said.

Even for a player as decorated as Lombardi, though, the game doesn’t always go as expected, and there’s a bump in the road for every player. In retrospect, he said, it can be hard to remember why you would continue with the game for so long, or why you keep going when you’re tied and it’s a long practice.

“I think it’s the people that surround the game nowadays — your teammates… I don’t think any of us even realizes how much fun we’re having now, and we won’t realize until five, 10 years down the road,” he said.

Teammate Matt Parisi ’15 called him a “truly genuine person.”

“He’s a meathead — you can put that in there,” Parisi said. “He’s a big kid, and he uses it. He plays with a lot of passion…. He’s not going through the motions every time. He always has a feeling when he’s playing.”

There are few people in this world — fewer Ivy League students — that breathe in days like Nick Lombardi does. He fears complacency, attaches a “so what” clause to the things he chooses to spend his time on. He doesn’t pick apart lofty theories or have grand intentions of running for political office. He’s not bothered by a lot and doesn’t take offense to much. After graduation, he wants to experience the world — see Italy and “bum around” Montana. To Lombardi, meaning in life comes simply from enjoying the things you do, and art, he says, is whatever you want to make it.

He trailed off during his interview to draw attention to a painting on the wall.

“Look at that painting. What do you think about it?” he asked. “There’s no pressure. That’s the thing about art. You can’t be wrong. You have your opinion and you stick to it. Whatever that is, you’re good.”

What makes him a rare breed goes far beyond the athlete-artist dichotomy that first nabbed the attention of The Dartmouth during baseball season. Nick Lombardi, surrounded by Ivy League students who spend sunny days in the stacks and have their paths to Wall Street mapped to the nearest half-inch, loves what he does — every at-bat, every dip of his brush, every long afternoon spent in the warmth of the sun with his friends at the river. He might put 100 casts out and bring no fish in. The only thing that will be coming back to campus with him might be the memory of just being there on the water with people who matter and the chance to push off tomorrow and try again — and that still will be, every time, enough.