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Rob Dickinson was in a slump until his coaches gave him some advice — “Just hit the baseball.”
Courtesy of Chuck Steenburgh | VMI
VMI’s Rob Dickinson ranks 10th in the nation with a .404 batting average this season, up from .320 last season.
Courtesy of Chuck Steenburgh | VMI
VMI’s Rob Dickinson separated his shoulder after colliding with a teammate going for a fly ball in April. He’s been limited to just 18 at-bats since, but hopes to play in the series against High Point.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
LEXINGTON — Rob Dickinson used to stress out when he stepped in the batter’s box.
But this year, the pitchers have been the ones under stress when Dickinson comes to bat.
Dickinson is having a surprisingly strong senior season for the VMI baseball team. He ranks 10th in the nation with a .404 batting average.
But he wasn’t always so tough to get out. Last year, he was hitting just .228 in early April.
So Keydets coach Marlin Ikenberry and hitting coach Jonathan Hadra gave him some advice.
“They said, ‘What’s happening to you? You have the ability, but you’re pressing so hard that you’re killing yourself. Forget everything we’ve taught you and just hit the baseball. Just come in the box, get comfortable and swing the bat.’ ” Dickinson said. “So that’s what I did.
“I wasn’t nearly as stressed in the box or anxious. Before, I would jump at the pitch if the ball was remotely close. I’d try to hack it as hard as I could. With them helping me, I was able to relax, not try to do too much at the plate.”
He hit much better the rest of last season, winding up with a .320 batting average.
This year, he has done even better.
“It would’ve been very nice to have this mindset ever since my freshman year, but if I didn’t have a slump, I might not be playing this well,” Dickinson said.
He also helps the Keydets with his play in center field.
“I will sacrifice my body every time to get a fly ball — [even] if that requires running into the wall, or diving,” Dickinson said.
Or running into a teammate.
During an April 20 game with Campbell, Dickinson collided with VMI shortstop Nick Dwyer while trying to nab a bloop hit.
“We both called it at the exact same time and I didn’t hear him, he didn’t hear me,” Dickinson said. “He flat out ran right over the top of me.”
“It was like a football collision — that’s how hard they hit,” Ikenberry said.
Dickinson suffered a separated shoulder. He has been limited to just 18 at-bats since that game.
Before the injury, he ranked third in the nation in hits. But he has appeared in only seven of VMI’s past 10 games, including just four starts.
He reinjured the shoulder while swinging the bat against Liberty on April 28. He had only one at-bat in last weekend’s series with Winthrop.
“Some days it feels decent and the next day it feels like it’s about to come off,’ Dickinson said of his shoulder.
Dickinson hopes to be in the lineup Thursday when the injury-plagued Keydets (20-32, 6-15 Big South) begin a three-game home series against High Point. The series will provide his final chances to play for the Keydets because the team won’t be advancing to the Big South tournament.
“It’s going to be hard to keep him off the field,” Ikenberry said. “If he can swing the bat, he will try to play. He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached. He’s been in excruciating pain.”
Ikenberry and Dickinson share the same high school alma mater, Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond.
Ikenberry’s former coach suggested Ikenberry take a look at Dickinson. Ikenberry offered Dickinson a spot on the Keydets as a walk-on, figuring Dickinson would be a good defensive center fielder.
“I didn’t know how much he was going to really hit,” Ikenberry said.
As a VMI freshman, Dickinson was not in the starting lineup for the 2010 season opener. But during that game, Erickson Keeton injured his hamstring while rounding first base.
“[Ikenberry] looked at me and goes, ‘Dickinson, you ready?’ ” Dickinson said. “I was like, ‘I guess.’ ”
He became the starting center fielder as a freshman, and hit .333 with five homers that season. He reaped a partial scholarship.
His average dropped to .274 as a sophomore, when he hit three homers.
“I pressed too hard,” he said. “Every cut I took, I tried to swing out of my shoes, make the ball go farther.”
But the 6-foot, 190-pound Dickinson now ranks fourth on VMI’s career hits list (237).
Dickinson, who bats left-handed, has become adept at hitting to the opposite field.
“He’s really learned how to hit the ball hard the other way,” Ikenberry said. “He’s got tremendous bat speed.”
Dickinson ranks first in the Big South this season in total bases (115), second in both hits (76) and RBIs (45) and third in homers (seven).
“He’s got tremendous … power,” Ikenberry said. “He hit a ball at Western Kentucky this year that everybody on the field just stopped and watched the ball leave the park. He’s hit a couple of those this year where it makes everybody stop in their tracks.”
Dickinson was not chosen in the major league draft last June. But he has done so well this season that perhaps he will get drafted next month.
“I hope somebody gives that kid a shot,” Ikenberry said. “He deserves it.”
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