The smart money said Ronnie Dawson would be selected by the New York Yankees, but Houston could be a better place for the Columbus native.
COLUMBUS — It was a night to be with family, an occasion when life could change and change dramatically. Ohio State’s Ronnie Dawson, the talented outfielder with the ready smile, sat at home Thursday night with his parents, Ronnie and Antoinette, watching the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft.
They watched intently as Commissioner Rob Manfred deliberately made his way to the microphone, announcing the selection of each team. The question at the Dawson home and in OSU circles was not if Ronnie would be drafted, but when.
Scouts had been checking in on Dawson since his freshman season at OSU, and this year as his talents coalesced with his drive, they swarmed about. On one of Ohio State’s trips south this spring, the Buckeyes were forced to take batting practice on a high school field some distance from the facility where they were playing games.
“I look around,” OSU coach Greg Beals said, “and there are 13 scouts there—13 and we’re on this crappy high school field for batting practice.”
As the season went on, scouts were ever present and increasingly diligent. It wasn’t a matter of if; it was a matter of when and with whom Ronnie Dawson would play. He was, as they say, headed for the next level where the fields are green and so is the future.
“I wasn’t nervous, well, maybe a little bit,” Dawson said, Friday. “I was more like curious, you know, wonderin’ what’s ahead…I sat there watching with my parents, but it just seemed so slow.
“I knew a bunch of the guys (his OSU teammates) were over at Nick Sergakis’ apartment watching, having a little party,” Dawson said. “So, I decided to go over there and be with them.”
It wasn’t a long drive, but on the way Dawson found himself thinking about the future. Who would select him? Where would he go? Lately, there had been a lot of talk that the New York Yankees had him high on their card. But there was lots of chatter about other suitors, particularly after he elevated his status at the Big Ten Tournament.
“The Reds were really interested,” Beals said. “I thought they were going to take him at 43. The A’s were high on him. They had the 47th pick. But I really thought the Yankees were going to take him at 62…The Yankee guys in our area really busted their butts looking at Ronnie, and I was really hoping they would get him.”
By the time, Dawson reached Sergakis’ apartment, the draft had reached the late 50s. All the players from the team still in the area had crowded into the senior captain’s modest place.
“I guess I was a little anxious, but when I got there with the guys I just kind of forgot about it,” Dawson said. “I just kinda relaxed.”
“We were all just sitting around talking, having a good time,” Sergakis said, “and it comes around to 61. Ronnie is just being Ronnie.”
“Then,” Dawson says, “they say, ‘With the 61st pick the Houston Astros take Ronnie Dawson.’ I sat there. It’s like I can’t move and I think, ‘Wait a minute. That’s me.’”
“Everybody just went nuts,” said Jacob Bosiokovic, OSU’s junior right fielder/first baseman. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Honestly, that’s a moment I will remember the rest of my life.”
“We were all just so happy for him,” said Yianni Pavlopolous, the sophomore closer. “We all knew how hard he has worked; how much he has put into it. I mean, anybody who ever played baseball dreams of being drafted and here it is happening for Ronnie. It was great. Really, really great.”
By lunchtime Friday, Dawson was still sorting it all out; his thoughts still somewhat scattered and understandably so. He had taken the first step into a vast unknown and details were incomplete.
“I think it’s next Tuesday a (representative) from Houston is going to come up and that’s when I’ll find out everything,” Dawson said. “You know, where I’m going. That’s when we’ll do all the papers…It’s all like a dream, but—(he laughs)—it’s not. It’s real. This is what I’ve wanted all my life, and it’s here.”
Now, life changes. The dream of a Major League career is within his grasp, and with it comes tremendous opportunity and tremendous tests.
Houston’s slot money for the 61st pick in the draft, money allotted but not necessarily spent on the signing, is $1,056,800. The tests and hurdles ahead are just as high.
He made his way to this point with impressive credentials: two-time All-American; first team All-Big Ten; 2016 Big Ten Tournament MVP. This season, he hit .331 with 13 homers, 25 doubles, 55 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.
In the Big Ten tournament, he hit .577. His 15 hits was the most in tournament history, as was his six doubles. He followed that by hitting .357 in the NCAA tournament, and, as every scout noticed without doubt, his uniform was always dirty. Besides talent, Dawson is an “effort” guy. He works. He works hard.
“Ronnie,” Beals said, “has an incredible drive to succeed, to be the very best he can possibly be. On countless occasions during the season, we had the same conversation. He would have a bad stretch at the plate, a bad at-bat, and he’s asking, ‘What am I doing wrong? What can I do to correct this? How do I get better?’ Over and over we said, ‘Ronnie, relax. Be yourself. Let the game come to you.”
Much has been achieved, but there is more work to do.
“I was really hoping the Yankees got him, like I said, but, shoot, it doesn’t matter,” Beals said. “The Astros do a really, really good job with player development, and Ronnie Dawson still needs player development. This is good for him.”
Coming next, the Buckeyes look back on their championship season and ahead to 2017, after so many move on.