Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Getting to Know Quad Cities OF Ronnie Dawson

The first thing you will notice about Ronnie Dawson is his ever-present smile. Dawson is a young man who very much enjoys what he does for a living and it shows on his face every single day. And he has a lot to smile about these days. After an inauspicious start to his season (.213/.295/.343 in April and May), he caught fire, hitting .327/.414/.536 with 13 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, 34 RBI, 50 runs scored and seven stolen bases in the 58 games from June 1st on.

Ronnie Dawson - July 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Dawson was on my original list to interview, but I somehow kept missing him. And the more I talked to others, the more I wanted to talk to him. If you've been reading my other interviews from late last month in Quad Cities, you will have noticed the praise that was heaped on him by teammates ...

From Troy Sieber
Watching Ronnie hit ... I love his swing ... he's a left-handed batter, big kid and he can drive the ball to every part of the field. When I see him hit the ball out to left field, it's really nice because a lot of the time, you see a guy pulling the ball for home runs, but when you see a guy like him that can hit the ball out right-center, left-center, it's really a nice thing to watch. And for a guy that big that has such good speed, it's just ... he's a really good player. It's awesome to watch for sure. You don't see that very often.
From Josh Rojas
And then I really like the way Ronnie [Dawson] plays, just because he's so big and athletic at the same time. The first time I saw him run, I was like, 'What the heck?' I did not expect that out of him.
From Daz Cameron
We have a lot of good guys, but the guy that stands out to me the most would probably be Ronnie [Dawson]. Ronnie is a good player. He's got everything. He can do a lot of things on the field. He can run for his size. I enjoy watching him play. When he gets it going, I love watching his swing. His swing ... it's nice when it gets going.
And then I spoke with Quad Cities Manager Russ Steinhorn about Dawson. According to Steinhorn, Dawson didn't let his slow start to the season faze him. "He never gets down on himself. He's always smiling and having a good time which is what you need in a long season. He puts in more work in the batting cage in fixing his swing than anybody. He is so focused on trying to get better, and I'm just happy to see the work that he's put in is paying off," said Steinhorn.

Steinhorn continued, "We have a lot of guys that work hard, but he stands out. You can tell he's got a plan to be successful and he's trying to do everything he can to do it." Steinhorn loves that Dawson can hit for power and fool people with his speed and came up with an interesting comp for the approach the Astros want him to take, "There's only one George Springer, but if (Dawson) could be our George Springer in the Midwest League, I think that's the approach that we're trying to teach him because he can run and he can hit the ball out of the park. Hit the ball out of the park the first at-bat and try to do it like George does and, if not, just get on base and run and have good at-bats the rest of the game."

Wow. Well, I was finally able to sneak in a few minutes with Dawson between Sunday chapel and game prep. My first question centered on whether he felt the extra pressure associated with being a top draft pick (Dawson was a second round pick in 2016). Dawson admitted that he has sometimes felt that pressure, "Especially last year I did. I wanted to prove myself early and I struggled at the beginning of last year and again this year also. It really has mentally made me a better person, a better teammate, a better ballplayer. I put so much pressure on myself at the beginning, wanting to do good. Then I realized at the end of the day, it's baseball, and me struggling helped me push myself ... to just play the game (and) have fun. And last year, I had a real good month and right now, I'm getting back to playing like I usually do and not worrying about (where I was drafted). I'm playing baseball and at the end of the day, it's the same thing."

When asked what was clicking for him in his recent success, Dawson said, "Honestly, the second half I sat down with one of my good friends ... he's actually a mental coach ... and I really talked to him. His name's Diamond Hall and I played baseball with him. He's no longer playing baseball, but ever since my freshman year of college, me and him would talk about the mental side of baseball. Each year I get better and better. And now, I talk to him at least once a weekend. We just talk about that. I sit down, set goals for myself that I can worry about. I can't worry about getting hits. I can't worry about hitting home runs and RBI's. I don't really determine that. That's the baseball gods. I can get a bloop hit, hit a ball hard. My thing is really worrying about quality at-bats and controlling the stuff I can control. That's what I've really been focusing on this second half."

Growing up, Dawson's parents kept him in sports from a young age, playing football, basketball and baseball. He credits that early exposure for his athleticism and speed. Despite enjoying baseball, Dawson thought it more likely that he would end up pursuing football, and probably would have but for a chance encounter in high school, detailed in this recent MiLB article, that resulted in the AAA Columbus Clippers, a Cleveland Indians minor league affiliate, bringing Dawson into their fold as both bat boy and baseball protege.

Of that experience with the Clippers, Dawson said, "Yeah, that's when I really took off and thought about playing baseball at the next level. I was always a football guy. I was football, football, football, going to football camps. Baseball, I was good at it, but didn't think I could play at the next level, even college. Then (as a) bat boy, I started talking to a lot of guys. George Robinson [the Clippers director of clubhouse operations], he really helped me. I was hitting every day and (he told me I) should go to a camp and get noticed. Went to a camp, got my first offer (and I thought) this baseball thing may work out for me. I was talking to a lot of guys, all of the guys that are with the Indians now, they were down in AAA, like Corey Kluber, Lonnie Chisenhall. One guy that really stuck out, and I still talk to him today, was Matt LaPorta. He was a first baseman for the Cleveland Indians for a while. I really enjoy talking to him. I really learned a lot from him. Take the stuff that he taught me back then and apply it to my game today. Not even on the field, more off the field, preparing myself for the game and stuff like that. I'm really grateful for the opportunity. It's priceless."

Better known for his bat, I asked Dawson to characterize himself defensively. "I'm pretty good. On a scale of 1 through 10, I'm not a 10. I'd say 7, 7-1/2, 8. I can still get better. I just started playing outfield. This is my fourth year. I'm still getting better. I'm real comfortable in left field," said Dawson. He's gotten a little more experience playing right field this season and is starting to get more comfortable at that position as well. Playing alongside Daz Cameron doesn't exactly hurt, either. "I'm getting better, learning. Daz Cameron's probably one of the best outfielders I've played with and I've just tried to learn from him because he's been around the game since he was born. I try to pick up things from him and that helps me a lot."

Delino DeShields, Jr. once told me that he felt that the underrepresentation of black players in baseball was due in part to the mere expense associated with the game, playing travel ball and going to camps in order to get noticed as a player. I asked Dawson for his thoughts on that, "Yeah, I would agree with him. Travel ball is expensive." Dawson said that he didn't really know much about the youth baseball initiatives for inner-city kids, but he thinks that's a great step to increase participation. "Honestly, it is expensive. Back then I didn't realize ... my parents had to do whatever they had to do to make sure I played. Talking to them (later), 'You guys paid that much for me to play baseball?' Especially when I'm 10 years old. It's cool for me to travel to North Carolina, but at the end of the day, me winning that tournament wasn't worth all that. (But) you build life memories. Honestly, the memories I had when I was little were unreal. The sacrifices my parents made for me ... I didn't understand it back then. Now, looking back at it, us not going on vacation because I'm at a baseball tournament," said Dawson. Add in the time commitment of 4 or 5 years in the minors, and it doesn't take much to see why professional football and basketball can seem more attractive to many young athletes.

On a lighter note, I asked Dawson for something about himself that most people didn't know. "One thing that people probably don't know, but my teammates probably would know, is that I love to dance. If you see (me) before the game, pre-game, I'm probably dancing. If there's a good song on, got a good little tune, I'm probably dancing and just trying to have fun. And I think that's another thing that helps me mentally. This game is so hard. Three out of 10 times, you're a hall-of-famer, and for a lot of us, three out of 10 times, that's a really good 10 at-bats. I try to keep having fun and stay positive as much as possible. Dancing and stuff helps me do that a lot."

Which brings me full circle back to that ever-present smile of his. Dawson told me, "It helps. There are times especially in the first half, I get down on myself and it's not making the game fun. If I have a bad game, oh well, I've got tomorrow. There's more to me than just baseball. I love the game, but I can't have baseball identify me. I love the game so much ... I've just got to remember that. Even if I have a bad day, I've always got tomorrow."

I have a feeling that baseball will bring Dawson a lot of tomorrows, and with his plan, his focus and his positive approach, it will be my pleasure to watch.

Thank you for your time, Ronnie, and best of luck as the season continues.

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