HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi.
The journey to the top is not a straight and smooth path for most. Success requires talent, yes, but the formula for excellence is more complicated. To be among the best also requires the right mix of hard work, resiliency and more.
As his career indicates, Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier has found the right formula—for him a combination of education, determination and commitment to playing the game of baseball and living his life, as he says, "the right way."
The former University of Southern Mississippi shortstop was among the leaders of a Southern Miss run to the College World Series in 2009 and is now among Major League Baseball's best.
As a leadoff hitter and one of the best defensive infielders in the game, Dozier is part of a Twins squad off to its best start in years. Through 40 games, the Twins record of 23-17 has them in the thick of the early American League (AL) Central race with Detroit and defending league champ, Kansas City. Dozier leads the AL in runs scored with 31 and the Twins with seven home runs.
Charting His Own Path
Dozier grew up in north Mississippi in Fulton and throughout his Itawamba Agricultural High School career had dreams of playing baseball in the southeastern conference. As the recruiting process launched, those schools did not show interest in Dozier, but a visit to Hattiesburg put him on course for future stardom.
"Luke Atkins was a friend of mine, and he committed to Southern Miss right before I did," Dozier said. "I fell in love with Southern Miss on my visit. It (being overlooked) was a blessing in disguise. Everything I grew up learning about how to conduct myself as a player and person—hard working, blue-collar, always represent yourself and your team well—the atmosphere at Southern Miss was that way, too.
"(Then Head) Coach (Corky) Palmer and (then Assistant) Coach (Scott) Berry, didn't ask; they demanded you do things the right way and represent yourself and the team well. That's something that is incredibly important at the big league level, too."
As a freshman in 2006, Dozier was a freshman All-America and helped the team to an NCAA Regional, a feat the Golden Eagles repeated in each of the next two seasons as well. Along the way, he became a fan favorite, with some of his biggest cheerleaders a relocated family from Arizona that continuously beat a homemade drum in rhythm while chanting for the "Bull Dozier." "Super fan" and his family became regulars at Pete Taylor Park during the late 2000s and followed Dozier's career into the professional ranks.
"I heard from him last about two years ago; he was selling mopeds in Pensacola. He would send me updates every year for a few years. It's funny that some of the players in the majors who went to Tulane, Rice and other schools we regularly played against remember him as well. They'll ask if that was my dad," Dozier joked.
With his college career already a success, the Chicago Cubs selected Dozier in the seventh round of the MLB Draft after his junior season. Surprising some, he decided to stay at Southern Miss for a senior season.
"I just didn't really want to leave yet," Dozier explained. "That was a testament to the three years prior to that—the relationships I had built with the coaches and friends."
Dozier's senior season started as expected, but 35 games into that year, he dove for a ball in the hole between shortstop and third and injured his shoulder, an injury that was expected to end his Golden Eagle career. Shortly thereafter, longtime head coach Corky Palmer announced his plan to retire at the conclusion of the season—a year that started with promise seemed headed for, at best, an obscure end.
Again, though, like during a recruiting process that at times had left him disappointed and discouraged, Dozier found a way to turn an apparent setback into a catalyst for future achievement.
"My senior year taught me a lot," Dozier explained. "It appeared at the time that it was going to be a story of missed opportunity—the guy that turned down the draft, got hurt, and was never heard from again. During that time I talked a lot with Coach Palmer and learned from him, Coach Berry, and (Assistant) Coach (Chad) Caillet and the example they set. My teammates couldn't feed off of my play on the field, but I learned other ways to be a leader the team needed."
What followed next could easily have been mistaken for the work of a Hollywood screenwriter.
The Eagles went on an incredible run, sneaking into an NCAA Regional for the fourth time in Dozier's four years. With a coach leading the team for the last time, and its top player on the bench with an injury, they upset host Georgia Tech to win a regional for the first time in school history, then swept a two-game series at Florida to advance to the 2009 College World Series. There, at famed Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., Dozier returned to the field as a pinch hitter late in an opening game against Texas, drawing a walk in the Eagles' tough one-run loss to the top-ranked Longhorns. A subsequent loss to North Carolina eliminated Southern Miss, but not before they had become the darlings of Omaha and a sentimental favorite of fans across the country.
Despite missing a large portion of his senior season, Dozier was drafted in the eighth round of the 2009 MLB Draft.
The Journey to the Top
Today, Dozier is one of the most recognizable Twins and a budding MLB star. After a couple of seasons in the minors, and bouncing back and forth between Minnesota and AAA-affiliate Rochester, he has established himself at second base over the past two years.
"After two years in the minors, I made it to the big leagues, and some of the flaws in my game were exposed," Dozier said. "And at the major league level, the world sees them—it takes a while to get used to cameras in your face after a game when you've made a key error."
A switch from shortstop, his position at Southern Miss and the early part of his professional career, to second base has coincided with greater offensive success as well.
"Being sent down (to AAA) was something that I needed," Dozier said. "It's a cliché that it's not what happens, but how you respond to it. I knew I had to change. I wasn't getting the job done."
After a solid 2013, during which he hit .244 and 18 home runs, playing in 147 games, Dozier broke out in 2014, blasting 23 home runs and driving in 71 runs, while making spectacular plays look routine in the field.
In 2014, he finished second in the American League in runs scored behind the face of MLB, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, and became only the sixth Twins player in history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in the same season. He was also invited to participate in MLB's Home Run Derby in his home park of Target Field as part of All-Star Week festivities.
A Christian Playing Baseball on the Side
Today, Dozier is firmly established as a MLB regular, but he still approaches the game as if he's fighting for his job.
"Two years ago, I started to feel more comfortable—knowing you're going to be in the lineup every day is important," Dozier said. "At the same time, you can't go about your business thinking that it is your job. Someone who is just as good or going to be just as good is right behind you.
"The day you stop trying to get better, you might as well hang it up."
His play is a reflection of his person, Dozier says. Dozier is intent on using his status as a major leaguer to demonstrate his Christian faith. On his Twitter biography, for instance, Dozier describes himself as a Christian playing baseball on the side. At Southern Miss, he was very active in the Baptist Student Union and graduated with a degree from the College of Business.
Today, Dozier and his wife Renee, who is also a Southern Miss alum, reside in Hattiesburg during the baseball offseason, and he takes the knowledge that he is now a role model to young people very seriously. For example, he and Renee have made recurring mission trips with the organization Amigos for Christ to Nicaragua to dig ditches and build schools for the people of that Central American nation.
"It is something my wife Renee and I look forward to every year," Dozier said. "I'd recommend the experience to anyone. It puts into perspective all that we have and helps me not to take things for granted. We teach them something, and through the joy in which they live, they teach us something as well.
"The biggest thing for me is strong faith," he added. "I grew up in a Christian home, and my walk with God helps me get through life's challenges. Baseball is a platform for me to share that walk with others. Faith comes first."