As the Cape League regular season comes to a close, Tanner Dodson's .365 batting average stands alone at the top of the leaderboard.
But just a few months back, Dodson wasn't even sure if he'd be in the lineup on the Cape. Recruited as a two-way player out of high school, he pitched 61.2 innings for Cal as a freshman, posted a 3.36 ERA in nine starts, but had just a single plate appearance. He was signed onto Wareham as a pitcher, and it wasn't until after his sophomore season with the Golden Bears in which he hit .297 and found himself as the team's starting center fielder that he got a text from Wareham general manager Andrew Lang: "Bring your outfield gear."
"(Cal) wanted him to pitch, and if we could use him as a hitter, we'd use him as a hitter type of thing," Gatemen head coach Don Sneddon said.
That quickly turned into the league's batting champion, and the best two-way player on the Cape. Given the overflow of talent on the Cape, it's rare to see a player do what Dodson did—lead the league in hitting, and post a 3.69 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched.
"You want to play with the best obviously," Dodson said. "It's good competition. It's gotten me way better this summer on the mound and on the plate. Being able to go back to school and take that is going to be able to help a lot."
Dodson wasn't always the two-way stud he is now. Growing up with his father Bo, who spent 10 years in the minors as a first baseman, hitting was always the major thing the two worked on. It wasn't until his junior year at Jesuit High (Carmichael, Calif.) that he saw his velocity jump, and it became his arm, not his bat, that colleges recruited him for.
Dodson credits his father for influencing the mental side of his game. He added that growing up around baseball has been a key factor in his success at the plate and on the mound.
"He knew the game, he knew some pitching stuff, and he knew a lot of pitching guys, and he'd them come and help me while he helped me with the hitting," Dodson said.
Dodson's sophomore season with Cal saw him become one of the conference's most versatile players. In addition to batting .297, he had a pair of four-hit games, had a perfect fielding percentage, was named Cal's opening day starter, and struck out a career high 48 batters in 19 appearances.
His transition to the Cape was nearly flawless. He credited the job Wareham has done in making sure his workload as a pitcher and hitter has been balanced as one of the factors to his success. He went 2-for-3 with a run scored in his debut against Harwich. From then on, the hits kept coming.
"I like it," Dodson said in regard to playing each day. "You can kind of get in a groove. I got in a groove this summer, it kind of helps your confidence when you're playing every day."
The first thing Sneddon noticed with Dodson was his unorthodox uppercut swing. But he did something he rarely does with players: he didn't try and re-tool his swing, and it's paid off.
"You don't have your son swing like him," Sneddon said. "He's got a skill. He just manages to put the bat head on the ball and find the holes. It's never pretty. They'll throw a fastball inside on him and he'll miss it by a foot. They'll try and throw it again, and he'll drive it into the gap."
As Sneddon explained, Dodson’s competitiveness and fearlessness above everything else is ultimately what will help him exceed in pro ball—whether it's on the mound or at the plate. He recalled an early season game against Cotuit in which he advised Dodson not to throw a fastball against a certain hitter. He responded by blowing a first-pitch fastball past the batter for strike one, and threw a nod to Sneddon in the dugout.
Incoming Cal head coach Mike Neu added that Dodson's competitiveness is what he wants to see out of all of his players.
"I was fortunate enough to play in the big leagues for a short amount of time, and there weren't too many guys I played with or against who weren't confident," said Neu who spent two seasons in the majors with the Athletics and the Marlins and left Pacific’s head coaching job for Cal. "For (Dodson) to already have that attribute is a big part of this game."
The first season as a head coach at a new program is never easy, but having a reliable player such as Dodson who can do several things well is reassuring to Neu.
"When we recruited him, that's what we envisioned," Neu said. "At the Pac-12 level, you just don't see many guys who are going to be able to have success on both sides of the field. I think it's a huge part of your team to have a guy that can do that."
Dodson spent the summer tweaking each area of his game. On the mound, he focused more on his command, and developing a reliable offspeed pitch. At the plate, hitting to all fields was his focus.
Heading back to Cal this spring, he simply has his eyes set on improvement.
"I just want to build on the success I've had," he said. "I want to carry what I've learned here into the season, and help out like that."