By Paul Casey Gotham
The proposition was simple. Brian Dixon (East Amherst, NY/Monroe CC) was to leave a school where he had already established himself and compete for playing time at another school.
The decision was easier than the proposition.
With that Dixon left Niagara County Community College and headed to Monroe Community College. Turns out the offer was better than advertised, and Dixon did all he could to take advantage of it.
When the Olean Oilers open their inaugural season in the New York Collegiate Baseball League, Dixon will be in the lineup. The sophomore catcher brings with him an education few others get from behind the plate.
“No other school can rival what Monroe has done with catchers,” Dixon said when asked about his move. “They have a great tradition and a reputation for sending players to better (four-year) schools.”
But it wasn’t as easy as that.
Dixon went to Monroe with the understanding that he would split time with national Gold Glove winner, A.J. Kehlenbeck. When Kehlenbeck lost his eligibility, Dixon stepped into a full-time role.
Even that presented its own struggles.
In the first week of the fall season, Dixon tore a ligament in his right ankle. He played through September and October, but surgery followed. He sat out the first 10 games of Monroe’s trip to Arizona – a stretch where the Tribunes went 1-9. He played sparingly from there. MCC came home 2-12.
With Dixon in the lineup after that, Monroe went 18-12.
“He came in and did a job,” MCC coach Mike Kelly said. “He stopped the opposition’s running game. My teams are built around our catchers. They solidify our defense.”
He did more than play defense. Dixon led the Tribunes hitting .338. His immediate challenge when starts NYCBL play will be to recapture the momentum he had in early May. He saved his best for last poking a pair of doubles, driving in three runs and going 7-16 as Monroe advanced to the finals of the Region III Division II title game.
“Everything started to click,” Dixon said of his late-season surge. “I got into some bad habits at the plate when I was out injured. I’m looking to keep this going in the summer.”
During his rehab, Dixon took advantage of another rare opportunity. He shared an apartment with former Tribune and current minor league catcher, Cory Brownsten.
“I got to know Cory pretty well,” Dixon said.
While Brownsten prepared for Spring Training, Dixon rehabbed. The two shared stories, and Dixon gained insights from a guy who has been through the battles.
Brownsten earned NYCBL honors in 2008 with the Webster Yankees (now Geneva Twins). In 27 games, he hit .272, with seven extra-base hits and 19 RBI. He went on to the University of Pittsburgh where he garnered All-Big East conference recognition. He has made 21 starts behind the plate for the Rome Braves of the Class-A South Atlantic League. Earlier this season, Brownsten caught a pair of rehab starts for another NYCBL alum, Tim Hudson. Hudson, a veteran of 14 years in MLB, pitched for the Hornell Dodgers in 1996.
Add Ollie Bertrand to the line of successful catchers churned out by MCC. Bertrand went on to a standout career with Division II Flagler. He played two years in the NYCBL with the Webster nine earning all-league honors in 2009. Bertrand was an assistant with Webster last season as the pinstripes advanced to the league championship series under the direction of NYCBL Coach-of-the-Year, Dave Brust. He is currently an assistant with the Geneva Twins.
The Oilers open their season on June 1st. They will host the Niagara Power. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. on the campus of St. Bonaventure University.
“You are playing against better competition,” Dixon said of his upcoming opportunity with Olean. “You learn new things because everybody is pushing each other.”
Dixon played 19 games for the 2011 Hornell. In 55 at bats he collected two doubles and four RBI.
The New York Collegiate Baseball League, founded in 1978, is a summer wood bat development league for professional baseball. Major League Baseball funds a small portion of the league’s annual budget. The league gives college players who have not yet signed a professional contract the opportunity to develop their skills at a higher level of play, gain experience with wood bats and be evaluated by scouts. Current major leaguers Brad Lidge, Tim Hudson, Dallas Braden along with Hunter Pence have all spent time in the NYCBL.
The NYCBL. Sending players to the pros since 1978.