SANTA BARBARA, California — Dillon Dobson, the former Starmount standout and current Appalachian State University standout, is soaking in the sun a bit more as a member of the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League this summer.
Dobson, who made All-Southern Conference at shortstop as a sophomore this past season for the Mountaineers, is being coached by the well-respected Bill Pintard.
“He’s a special player,” Pintard said in a July 17 interview. “Dillon Dobsons don’t come around every day.”
Dobson said he was getting over “a little shoulder soreness” during an interview given July 14, but other than that he was enjoying his summer playing baseball in California.
He said he wanted to work on his arm strength this summer. During his freshman season, he played first base due to an injury to the regular first baseman. “The firstbaseman got hurt and I just jumped in there,” he said. “Taking a year off and playing first base, [though], weakens your arm a little bit.”
It was the first time he had played first base since T-ball, he said.
“It’s a little different perspective,” he said. Dobson said, as a natural shortstop, he felt there were balls a firstbaseman ought to get. After spending a season playing first base, he felt like he a little more insight into the plight of a firstbaseman.
This past season, Dobson returned to shortstop. “It was fun to get back on that side of the field,” he said.
His hitting didn’t suffer while he was changing positions at App State. Dobson said he attributed that to “good coaching. They’ve helped out a lot,” he said. “Especially the mental aspects of hitting.
“And getting lucky every once in a while doesn’t hurt either.”
Dobson is coached by a seasoned staff in Boone, including Head Coach Billy Jones. “I really enjoy being able to work with him,” he said. “He’s been around the game. And he’s got a good relationship with all his players.”
Jones asked Dobson about playing ball in Alaska in the summer of 2013. He thought it would be “a good spot” for him, but Dobson found being away from home “a little tough.”
Dobson played for the Kenai Peninsula Oilers during the very long days that are an Alaskan summer. “You get to enjoy things a little bit longer out there,” he said. “It’s a neat experience.”
He said he focused on his offense: “putting the ball in play; cutting down on the strikeouts; working each at bat.”
Those were all things Jones has praised Dobson for at App State. “It comes with experience,” Dobson said. “Being able to calm yourself down.”
This summer, the experience is in California where the Foresters recently gave Pintard his 800th career win. “He’s a special coach,” Dobson said. “He takes pride in going out every day and competing.
“He does a great job getting us focused every day.”
Mutual admiration society
Pintard would say much the same about Dobson, who competed in the California Collegiate League All-Star game in Los Angeles July 16. “He put on quite an exhibition at batting practice,” Pintard said. “He made a really good play in the All-Star game. He opened some eyes.”
Pintard said Dobson was tied for the league-lead with five home runs through 38 games. The number of home runs might seem low, but players are only allowed to use wooden bats - not the the aluminum bats to which they are accustomed.
Dobson is also among league leaders in RBI and has stolen 10 bases in 11 attempts.
When asked what impressed him the most about Dobson, Pintard had plenty to say. “First of all,” he began, “I knew he could play baseball. Billy Jones is a good friend of mine. He’s been around the game. If he says someone can play, they can play.
“Second of all - his demeanor; the way he approaches the game. He slows the game down. He’s a very mature young man. You don’t have to tell him how many outs there are. He knows. He ‘s not going to throw to the wrong base. And you don’t have to worry about him getting the throw off at second. You can count on him to do the right thing.
“He’s a quiet guy, but a leader on our team. He’s had three walk-off hits. He has the ability to deliver in the clutch.”
Dobson is hitting .341 (14-for-41) with men in scoring position.
This is coming against pitchers throwing an average of 90-miles-per-hour, Pintard said, adding “the guy the other night was throwing 96.”
Although he has been slowed by what Pintard calls “a little looseness in his shoulder,” Pintard said even that impresses him. “He has the ability to play through injury,” he said. “The great ones can suck it up and grind it out.”
Pintard, who is also a major-league scout, said Dobson can potentially play first base, second base, third base, left field, or right field at a higher level. “As a shortstop, I don’t know if he can stay there,” Pintard said. “But his arm’s good enough to play in the outfield.”
Pintard said Dobson has a “solid major-league average arm,” meaning among current major-league players, Dobson’s arm would rank as average among them. “He can run,” he continued. “He has a strong, physical body.”
Pintard, who is coaching in his 20th year in the California Collegiate League, knows a little bit about what he’s talking about. About 60 players are drafted out the of the league each year. Pintard’s team has produced 40 players who went on to major-league careers over the last two decades.
Putting off the real world
Dobson is also involved with community service through the Foresters. One of their service projects is Hugs for Cub, the Foresters’ ongoing “buddy” program for children battling cancer.
He said they have gone bowling with the children and this week, the team will take them surfing.
Dobson’s summer with the Foresters will wrap up at the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas. The tourney begins August 1 and can run as long as 10 days. With four previous championships, the Foresters are used to playing deep into the tournament.
He then plans to return home for a few days before he heads back to the campus in Boone.
How long he will play baseball or how far he will go, he doesn’t know. “I’d love to play as long as I can,” he said. “I feel God’s blessed me with something.”
Dobson said he’d like to put off the “real world” as long as possible. When asked if maybe baseball could be his real world, he replied, “That’s the goal.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or Twitter @elkinareasports.