Last season, outfielder Alex Dickerson had no trouble contributing with the bat in his hand.
The freshman fielder’s glove, though, was a whole other story.
“There were times in batting practice last year when he’d get his reps and look like Magellan trying to find his way,” IU head coach Tracy Smith said. “When he finally got there, there were a lot of drops.”
Dickerson, now a sophomore and statistically the team’s best fielder, will start his 36th-straight game in left field for the Hoosiers (19-16, 5-4) Friday night at Minnesota (14-23, 4-5) — something only made possible by Dickerson working to hone the craft in the offseason.
Dickerson played in the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer with a major focus on becoming a better outfielder.
“I played outfield in high school, but when I came here, it was at another level, and it kind of passed me up as a freshman,” Dickerson said. “I spent the whole summer working day-in and day-out on it, taking fly balls non-stop until I felt more comfortable.”
The practice has worked. Dickerson appeared in just six games last season as the starting left fielder while starting 52 others in the designated hitter spot. It meant he recorded just seven putouts while committing one error.
This season, Dickerson has caught 60 fly-ball outs without making a single error — giving him the status of the only Hoosier starter with a perfect fielding percentage.
For Smith, those numbers are above and beyond his expectations.
“Quite honestly, he’s played a very good left field,” Smith said. “Now, he’s not going to make the great, great play consistently — though he’s made a couple. All I was worried about was him making the routine catch out there, and he’s done more than that.”
The difference, Dickerson said, is how he’s perceiving the ball coming off the bat.
“I wasn’t getting a good read on the ball,” said Dickerson, who also leads the team in slugging percentage (.822) and home runs (16). “I just felt under pressure, and I wasn’t staying calm out there.
“I think that just taking that many repetitions this summer got me to the point where I was confident every day, for every ball.”
More importantly, Smith said, Dickerson getting on to the field has allowed sophomore Josh Lyon — this week’s Big Ten Co-Player of the Week — to flourish in the designated hitter spot with a .408 batting average.
During the Friday night contest, Dickerson will stand behind IU’s No. 1 pitcher this season, sophomore Drew Leininger.
Leininger, sporting a 6-1 record and 1.20 ERA this year, will face Minnesota’s Seth Rosin. Smith left the starters for the Saturday and Sunday games of the three-game tilt to be announced, as has been the case many times this season due to a shortage of Hoosier pitching.
“We’re just trying to win one game at a time,” Smith said. “If we have to use everybody to win the first game, we’ll do that.”