Watson Feels Like He's Home Again

VERO BEACH, Fla.- Since this is De Jon Watson's first spring as the Dodgers director of player development, the tendency would be to say that he's new to the club. Then, you discover that this is not entirely correct.

Watson, you see, is a native of Southern California and, growing up in Santa Monica, he and his Little League teammates used to be regulars at Dodger Stadium. Up the lofty reaches of the park- the Bob Uecker seats if you will- they'd clamor for their team. And when he wasn't with them, his grandfather would take him every chance he got. No, he's not new to the team at all, he grew up with them.

He also grew up to be a superior athlete, a high school football player who was good enough to get college offers. By then, though, he had decided to concentrate on one sport and that was to be on the diamond so he went on to West Los Angeles Community College to play. There was a Dodger connection there, too, for Artie Harris, who's a part-time scout for the team, was the coach.

It wasn't the Dodgers who drafted him, though. Rather that was the Royals who took him in the third round of the January 2005 selection process. He went on to play five 1/2 years in their system as a first baseman/ outfielder but injuries were to blight and then to finally end his career on the field.

It was a balky right shoulder than first put him out, ultimately necessitating surgery. He came back only to damage the other shoulder. He'd been in the Florida State League before this happened. Now, he had to forget playing his way to the top.

Not to leave the game, though. First he was hired by John Young to assist in implementing the then-new RBI program. The Marlins noticed him and thought he'd be the ideal man to scout the inner city for them so hired him in 1991. He quickly rose to become a fulltime scout, covering a vast area that included Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri.

His work was such that his rise was steady. He was part of the group that scouted and chose players for the expansion draft and went into the front office to help assemble the club that won it all in 1997. That prompted the Reds to make him their scouting director, a post he filled from 1998-2000. It was a period of prosperity for Cincinnati for, under his leadership, the Reds picked 27 players who made it to the big leagues including Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and B. J. Ryan.

He moved over to pro scouting for the Reds the next two seasons before joining the Cleveland Indians as director of professional scouting from 2004 to 2006. Then, at last, the opportunity opened with the Dodgers when Terry Collins resigned to leave for managing in the Japanese League.

Competition for the job was considerable but the Dodgers felt his experience (and success) in so many facets of the game made him the logical choice.

"I considered this an unbelievable opportunity," he says. "I get to be part of a quality group and am able to work with Ned (Colletti), Logan (White) and Kim (Ng) in the development of these players."

He's been sifting through scouting reports ever since he was hired in November and now can be found on the back fields of Dodgertown seeing them for himself. And getting to know each one for he feels that's an important part of his job.

You won't find him in uniform as Collins often was. That's because Terry also held the title of field coordinator but P.J. Carey has taken that job after 23 years with the Rockies. So, he'll be De Jon's man on the field to see that they implement ,what Watson terms," the Dodger way" That, simply, put is learning to do the proper methods of the cut-off plays, base running etc. that make up the fundamentals.

It's more than that, though, for he feels that teaching life skills is a vital part of his role, too. Character, he knows, is as vital as physical skills.

His philosophy on the advancement of players is, "Each player will tell us when he's ready for the next level by his actions" In order to assess that, he'll be spending a lot more time roaming the system than in his office in L.A.

Now 40 years old, his family consists of wife Joal, daughter Mia and son Michael. That's in Maricopa, Arizona, which is now home- when he gets the time. But when he gets to Dodger Stadium, he'll be home again, as well. There he can cast a glance up to the right field section, where it all really began.