Dowdy focused on game's intricacies

Where would the 2004 Boston Red Sox have been without Dave Roberts' steal? Would the 2006 have won it all without David Eckstein's grit and flare at shortstop? Craig Counsell scored the World Series winning run for the Diamondbacks against the Yankees in 2001. Edgar Renteria, a little known Marlins shortstop at the time, had the game-winning hit in 1997 versus the Cleveland Indians.

All through baseball, the smaller players are often overlooked, especially in the modern era of living by the long ball. But, these players are essential to the success of the team and make those key plays to help win ball games.

It was nearing the end of a cold, wet night in Portland that had seen intermittent downpours and a long game that made a win look to be out of sight from the beginning. The visiting Fresno Grizzlies had exploded out of the gates, racking up nine runs in the first three innings. But, a determined Beavers bullpen had come on and shut the Fresno offense down since the third, giving their team new life. Now, in the bottom of the eighth, hope was rapidly dissipating in the minds of the fans that had stuck around this long and more and more headed for the turnstiles. The Beavers had, however, been inching back and trailed the Grizzlies by just two going into the inning.

With one out, manager Rick Renteria was in need of one more rally, and sent his speedy utility player, Brett Dowdy, up as a pinch hitter.

Always being ready to exploit his abilities when asked to steal a base, pinch-hit, lay down a bunt, or come into a game late and make plays on defense is what Renteria has Dowdy working to perfect. He says he knows it is a tall order for any player to be ready to perform on limited playing time, but likes what he's seen so far. He points out that Dowdy is always able to put together solid at-bats and has been able to take advantage of his speed.

Growing up in Bradenton, Florida, Dowdy was always the smallest player on his team. And people always pointed that out to him, saying he wouldn't be able to go as far as he dreamt because of it. But he was determined, and Dowdy grew up idolizing the smaller players that he saw playing on television, like Mark Lemke, because he related to their guile and determination to succeed in the bigger, strong man style of game that dominates Major League Baseball.

"I could relate to them, I could relate to being small, and being little and having to play it hard and playing harder than everybody else to be able to compete at that level," says Dowdy. "When I was growing up I was always the littlest guy on the team and didn't always get to play."

Now, standing at six foot and 190-pounds, Dowdy is still the smaller guy, and goes to the ballpark everyday for the Portland Beavers with that same determination that first pushed him to defy the words of all those who doubted him.

In the game, Fresno pitcher, Patrick Misch, made a nice pitch to Dowdy near the outside of the plate, but Dowdy went with it, lining a hard ground ball toward the hole between first and second base. The ball scooted along the turf infield at PGE Park, and looked like a sure base hit, but second baseman, William Bergolla, was able to knock the ball down on a diving attempt. Next came the speed factor that Bergolla surely knew about, and rushing to get the out, he was unable to get the ball cleanly out of his glove as Dowdy coasted safely over the first base bag.

Ryne Sandberg was another player he enjoyed watching as a Cubs fan because, "he really didn't say a whole lot, didn't talk a whole lot, just showed up to the field, played, kept his mouth shut, did what he needed to do, didn't show off, didn't show boat," said Dowdy, during a pre-game hitting session with the Beavers. He held his bat in hand, constantly clenching and testing the grip. Dowdy was in the midst of an early season slump at the plate, but could be found in the batting cages working hard to get better, just like he knew how to do. "He played the game hard," he continued, referring to Sandberg.

Dowdy had spent his off-season working on his speed, among other things, an attribute of his game that Dowdy relies on and takes pride in. He attended speed camps that shaved more than two-tenths of a second off his sixty-yard dash and came into spring training this season in excellent shape, which helped him earn more than a few trips to play with the San Diego Padres because of their confidence in his defensive abilities. Not bad for a kid who was always told he couldn't do it.

Hanging around the players at that level and seeing how they operate and succeed allowed Dowdy to see what he needs to do to be up there all the time.

"It was a great experience getting to go up there," Dowdy said. "When you go up there, each time you try to learn something new. Whether it is something big or something small, because all those small things add up to big things."

With Adam Shabala up to bat, Dowdy's presence at first was bothering Misch. He made sure to mix in a few pick-off attempts as he worked a 1-and-2 count on Shabala. The next pitch, however, was off target and bounced in the dirt in front of the catcher, who successfully knocked it down in front, as the ball skipped out in front of the plate. Dowdy had been looking for just that pitch, a ball down in the dirt, and didn't hesitate. He broke for second base. The throw was late and the call was safe.

"My base running," Dowdy begins. "Some of those guys told me, as quick as I am, its something I really need to focus on, being able to steal some bases and take some extra bases on balls in the dirt, and that's one of the things I got out from being up there."

Now Misch showed even more discomfort and was noticeably more bothered. Dowdy's lead was big and Misch began struggling to get the ball over the plate. He walked Shabala to bring up the hot hitting Craig Stansberry. Misch stepped off the mound several times to take a look at Dowdy, which brought jeers and boos from the Beaver fans who could sense a rally was mounting.

"When I get on base, that's when I really get excited because I know I can do some things for my team," said Dowdy. "Starting to steal a base and making the infielders move and the guy hitting can put a groundball in play in the hole because there's nobody there now. I love doing that kind of thing. It gets the team going, it gets everybody motivated.

"Its something I take pride in. Being able to help out the team any way I can."

Renteria put things in motion on the 2-and-1 pitch to Stansberry by calling for the hit-and-run. Obviously struggling, Misch had to come with a hittable pitch, and Stansberry knew it too. Dowdy broke for third on the delivery forcing the third baseman to move to his bag, and Stansberry turned on the pitch, driving it right into the spot where the Fresno third baseman had been. Dowdy didn't slow down as he rounded third base and scored.

The rally that Dowdy had started wouldn't end there either. The Beavers would plate one more run in the inning and go on to win the game in the bottom of the 12th inning on a two-out double by former Beaver, Jack Cust. But, the 12th inning heroics by the Beavers' sluggers may never have happened if it weren't for the crafty throwback style and savvy base running from the smaller Dowdy. Where would the winning teams and popular heavy hitters in all of baseball be without their key supporting cast that gets on base and scores those runs?

"Being the little guy and not being the main guy on the map, I've had to battle my way and learn how to do the little things like base running," says Dowdy, when talking about the pride he takes in helping his team win. "A lot of guys don't see that as a priority, but for me not being a power guy, I need to focus in on those little things. I really have to make that part of my game, one of the biggest parts of my game. Being able to run the bases, steal bases, read balls in the dirt. I have to do that.

"Going up [to the Padres] and being able to play gives you an idea of are you ready for this, are you not ready for this? Can I compete up here? Do I think I have a shot? It opened my eyes a little bit and made me realize some things I needed to work on, some things I needed to do. It made me realize that this is what I love to do, this is what I wanted to do, and I want to get up there and be with those guys on an everyday basis."


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