If you want to understand the University of Connecticut
wunderkind of basketball, Scott Burrell, look closely at D.J. Dozier of the Williamsport Bills.
Men who have extraordinary athletic talent oozing from every pore in two of America's most popular sports simply have to exercise that talent. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are the most prominent of that ilk in the modern day. Most of Connecticut knows about Burrell, who plays pro baseball in the summer and college basketball in the winter and into spring.
Dozier was an All-America running back under coach Joe Paterno at Penn State. He didn't play baseball in college but his love of the game never left him. At Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach, Va., he built a reputation in both sports that eventually led to a college degree and a professional football contract.
Baseball intruded two years ago. The Minnesota Vikings were not happy but Dozier could no more resist the pull of the diamond than an ill-tempered bulldog can resist chasing a wise-guy tomcat who stalks up to him, sticks out its tongue and calls him a sissy.
"Two years ago, I decided the desire to play baseball was too strong not to do it," he said. "Rather than wonder years from now if I could have done it, I had to prove it for myself."
At 25, he is older and more mature then Scott Burrell, but the motivation seems to be identical. There is also the lure of big money that is today a part of pro baseball. But the latter factor would not be enough for either man without the former.
After college, the New York Mets agreed to give Dozier a tryout. Did he impress them? Ha. They couldn't find a pen and contract form fast enough. He went to Class-A Port St. Lucie, and then Double-A Jackson and wound up the season with 36 stolen bases in 42 tries, 15 homers, 80 RBI, 10 triples and a .303 average.
Dozier was expected to play at Triple-A Tidewater this season, but wound up again in Double A. The Mets have moved their Double-A affiliation to Williamsport of the Eastern League this year. Manager Clint Hurdle's club played Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at Beehive Field in New Britain against the Red Sox.
Although he has stolen 10 of 10 bases this year (the Mets say he's the best baserunner in the minor league system), he is off to a poor start at the plate, batting .190 in the first 18 games. Dozier went 1 for 4 with an RBI Wednesday.
"I'm disappointed in that, but not discouraged," he said Wednesday. "I know I'm not overmatched or anything like that. If I just do my best, it will come."
There are other problems. Dozier said the Vikings didn't play him much last season he played in only six games, starting the last because they do not want him to play baseball. "We couldn't come to an agreement," he said. "I asked to be traded to a team that would play me. After the trading deadline passed, that couldn't happen either. This year, it looks like the same situation. (The Vikings) want me there."
Dozier discovered baseball was an innate talent that was nurtured enthusiastically by his father William when he was growing up in Virginia Beach. "Baseball is big, very important, down there," he said. "Some people had batting cages in their back yards."
His father, vice president of an electronics firm, was his first coach when Dozier was a tad and always found time to have a catch and offer tips without pressing his son. "He came to watch me play every time he could. No matter when or where, he would always make a desperate effort to get there."
One man who had a cage in his yard, the father of one of his Kempsville teammates, approached Dozier when his sophomore high school season ended. "He took me to his cage on a Sunday and taught me to hit to the opposite field. I learned something valuable that advanced me a step farther, gave me another dimension. I will never forget the four hours in that man's batting cage."
Dozier has the same love for football that he does for baseball and may one day pick one sport over the other. No rush, despite pressure from the Vikings, the disadvantage of being married and having to be away so much, the inconveniences of the minor leagues and a poor start to his season.
He said being part of Joe Paterno's teams taught him many things. "I have tremendous respect for the man, what he stands for and what he teaches," he said. "He prepares you for what you will find after you leave."
His wife Sheila understands. "It's like being a salesman," Dozier said. "On the road for long periods of time. It's tough. But the minor league life is a very small adjustment. You used to hear about old beat-down busses and the rest in the minors, but it's not that bad. It doesn't hurt that the Mets are one of the best organizations in baseball, either. Sure, life in the NFL or in the majors is better. But my desire and my love of the game outshines all that."
The day will come when Dozier may have to choose one sport over the other. "Nobody knows what tomorrow holds," he said. "But I would never hurry that decision."