Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 3, 2013

Canadian pitcher seeks to climb from Bluefield to Toronto

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — It might have been easy for Shane Dawson to switch sports. After all, playing baseball in Canada isn’t exactly easy to do.

“There is no high school baseball so I only got to play baseball two or three months of the year and the rest was basketball,” Dawson said.

Think it gets cold in Four Seasons Country in the winter? Try Alberta, Canada.

“In the summertime it gets like this, but in the winter it gets a lot colder,” Dawson said. “I like the humble upbringing that I had coming from Alberta and it kind of set me to be pleased with wherever I am in baseball.”

Where Dawson is right now is Bluefield, as a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher for the Bluefield Blue Jays, following his dream of succeeding as one of the best at the highest levels in the major leagues.

“My ultimate goal is to be a hall of famer,” Dawson said.

A 17th-round draft choice by Toronto out of Lethbridge Junior College near Drayton Valley in Alberta, Dawson didn’t grow up as a fan of the Blue Jays or any of team despite living in Canada. He did have favorite players, such as Pedro Martinez, who pitched for the Montreal Expos, and Larry Walker, a Canadian-born star in the major leagues, while dreaming of the same type of success in his future.

“Absolutely, it has been my dream since I was 3 years old,” Dawson said. “Ever since I could throw a ball, that is what I wanted to do, something involved in sports, rather it was playing or being a trainer.”

His path to that goal came through his left arm. Also a talented basketball player, Dawson was steered toward baseball through his father, who understood what being left-handed could mean for his son.

“I played lots of positions throughout my life, but when I was young I was left-handed and I could throw decently hard so it just kind of fell in place,” Dawson said. “My dad was big into basketball, but when I was younger and I was left-handed, he wanted me to play baseball.”

He did is well, eventually playing for the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge, which has won three straight Canadians National championships, with Dawson part of that success in 2012.

“It is a really good program, they pump out a lot of good players,” Dawson said. “They have got a catcher in Triple-A with the Rockies right now and they have got a left-handed reliever in Double-A with the Phillies right now.”

 They also have a left-handed pitcher in Bluefield who has enjoyed a solid start to the season. He has appeared in three games, posting an 0-1 record with a 3.75 ERA. He also has two four inning saves — ‘piggybacking’ with teammate Chase De Jong — allowed just five hits and walked two while striking out 13 in 12 innings on the mound.

 That followed a stellar 10 games last summer in the Gulf Coast League, posting a 2-1 mark and a 2.35 ERA with 35 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 30 2/3 innings on the mound.

 He actually expected to be pitching somewhere in the Boston Red Sox organization, but got a surprise on draft day last June.  

 “I was surprised because the scout had only seen me pitch twice and he never talked to me after the games,” Dawson said. “Boston was really interested in me so I thought it was going to be Boston. They called me the day before the draft asking me if everything we talked about was still on the table.

 Toronto just swooped in and stole me, I guess.”

 That has proven to be a good move for Dawson, who has survived numerous health issues, including several broken bones, a torn rotator cuff and more than a half-dozen cracks in his hips, most of which occurred on the basketball court.

 He hopes to one day be a favorite son by being a native playing baseball for the Blue Jays in Toronto.   

 “It would be nice to have the whole country behind me,” Dawson said. “If I was Canadian

and played for the Yankees, maybe I would get half the country, maybe less, but in Toronto you really have everybody supporting you.”

 The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Dawson is glad for now to be in Bluefield — or anywhere else — playing baseball for a living.  

 “For the most part, I know I am still young,” Dawson said. “I am 19, it is going to be a slow process to the big leagues so hopefully everything keeps going the way it is.

 “If I keep steadily moving up, I am happy with that. I am happy playing ball wherever I am as long as I can play ball and as long as my body lets me, I will. It doesn’t matter if it is the big leagues or the minor leagues.”

 Dawson has worked a trio of four-inning stints, with his lone loss coming in a start at Pulaski. His most costly inning was aided by a slip on a muddy mound that allowed an infield roller to be a hit. He later allowed a home run to lead to the loss.

 “I didn’t pitch bad in Pulaski, I just got some bad breaks and then I gave up the home run,” he said. “There was mud right in front of the mound and when I went to turn it just slid underneath me.

 “Baseball is probably the most unforgiving sport you can think of, rather it be bad hops or just make a great pitch and the guy hits it out.”

 Like the rest of the Bluefield starters, Dawson only gets to work four innings or 60 pitches whichever comes first so he has to be efficient when his chance comes every five days.

 “That is why it is essential in leagues like this to just let them fill it, let them swing the bat and show them that you can do four or five innings in 60 or less pitches,” Dawson said. “That way they know you are efficient, they want to move you up…

 “I feel like mentally I am pretty tough and I fill the zone and when I get ahead I try to put them away, a lot of fastballs.”

 It can be difficult for an organization as pitching heavy as Toronto to get in a lot of work. Dawson knows everyone else is out there trying to catch the eyes of those could make decisions such as promotions through the system.

 “It is. I know physically I am not as gifted as some of those guys, but I feel like mentally I have an edge on them maybe over the high school guys,” Dawson said. “I have one year of college experience and my college coach really helped me be competitive on the field and never let the things I can’t control get me down.

 “Just the type of family I have, I have just always been trying to put 100 percent into everything I do.”

  Dawson spent last summer in Florida in the Gulf Coast League, and then made the move to Bluefield. While he wants to continue that progression through the system, he simply wants to win games.

“In the Gulf Coast it was more about trying to get out of Florida, whereas this year I feel like it is more of a team vibe that we have,” said Dawson, whose Blue Jays are 9-3 and in first place in the Appalachian League East Division. “I like it a lot, I like pitching to win, not pitching for myself. I just want to win.

 “I don’t want to do good and then at the end of the day lose 5-1 or rather it be 1-0, I want to win, that is what playing sports is about.”

 Alberta isn’t a short trip to Toronto, but Vancouver — which is where the next step is for most Bluefield players — is a much shorter drive.  

  “I would like to move up as fast as I could,” he said. “I am really far away (from Toronto), I am about a 45-hour drive, I am closer to Vancouver. I was really banking on Vancouver, by the end of the year my goal is to end in Vancouver.”

 Count on it. Dawson knows what it will take to make the next step on his journey toward what he hopes is immortality on the baseball diamond.

 “Just pitch the way I know I can, become a smarter pitcher, take good advice from pitching coaches and head coaches, take care of my body,” Dawson said. “That is a really big thing because a lot of guys, especially lately, it seems like a lot of pitchers are getting injured.”

 Dawson hopes to stay healthy this season, while expecting a lot of wins this season in Bluefield, which continues to look for its first  Appalachian League title since 2001.

 “We probably have some of the best prospects in the organization are on this team with Mitch Nay, Dawel Lugo and D.J. Davis. We have just got to start putting it together really,” said Dawson, during an interview last Thursday. “You can see them starting to get it, but it will come, five more games and we will be one of the best teams in the league.”

 — Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com