Middlebury pitcher takes his game west

DENVER — The Middlebury College baseball team suffered a rough season this past spring; the Panthers managed just four wins. But, despite the losing record, junior relief pitcher Mark Dickerson’s enthusiasm for the game remained strong as the NESCAC season drew to a close in early May.
So the six-foot, four-inch hurler decided to take his baseball skills west — at least for the summer.
The Bristol native last week wrapped up a summer season bringing the heat as a part of the Denver Cougars, a team in a collegiate summer baseball league based in Colorado’s capital city.
“I had never done anything like that and it was a good opportunity to travel a little bit in a new state and spend a summer playing baseball before I graduate and have to enter the real world,” he said.
Growing up in Addison County, Dickerson had an early introduction to baseball in first grade and began pitching while in Little League. He continued through high school at Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, where he was on the 2010 state championship team and graduated in 2011.
Dickerson also played American Legion ball in the summers and has pitched for the Panthers his three years at college, starting as a relief pitcher this past season.
Collegiate leagues are a popular way for student athletes to extend their seasons and get extra training. Dickerson first heard about the Cougars when a coach for another team in the Rocky Mountain Baseball League contacted Panthers head coach Bob Smith looking for prospective players. Dickerson also sent out a general player interest form that went to other coaches in the league, which features mostly players from NCAA Division II colleges but also a good number from D-I schools, and was contacted by Cougars head coach Mark Cerullo, who invited him to play with the team over the summer.
Cerullo said he recognized a young athlete in need of exposure to a high level of competition.
“There are quite a few major league guys that are going through this right now that are going to be playing in the big leagues and I think Mark needed to experience that for the good or the bad,” he said.
The rules of this league would allow Dickerson to keep his eligibility to compete on his college team next year. Plus, as a rising senior Dickerson knew this summer was his last chance to play in the league.
In early May, before school was technically done for the year, Dickerson got an extension on a final geography exam paper and flew out to Colorado to join the other Cougars for training.
He was the only Vermonter and only player from the Northeast out of 24 players on the team. The league was established in 1999 as a team for local college ball players and traditionally attracts players from Denver and Colorado Springs. Other players on Dickerson’s squad came from Montana and Texas to play at the home field at Mountain Vista High School, located in Highlands Range, Colo.
“Some of the players had even graduated from that high school,” Dickerson said. “Most people came from two to three hours away.”
The players that weren’t from the immediate area stayed with local host families. On days off, Dickerson’s host family showed him the Denver area, including a trip to the Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark near Colorado Springs known for its striking stone formations.
Even though he was the only Northeasterner on the team, Dickerson said he had no trouble fitting in, since most of the players were new to the team as well.
“When you come in on a team and everyone is new, it’s pretty welcoming,” he said.
Later in the summer, Dickerson got to know a fellow Vermonter from the Rutland area who was playing for a team based in Laramie, Wyo.
After Dickerson met his Cougar teammates on May 17, the team practiced for four days before playing a series of exhibition and non-league games that included travel to Kansas to play teams there. Between June 4 and July 12, the Cougars started an intense period of league games, playing the 10 other teams in the league three times each.
Dickerson was starting pitcher in five games and ended the regular season with a perfect 5-0 record. He also had a lot of relief appearances and led the team in innings and appearances, and was first among starters in nearly all good pitching categories, and first or second overall.
The Cougars finished their season seventh in the league, not as good as they would have liked, Dickenson said, but they improved in the playoffs, arriving at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., in mid-July in second place.
“As the seventh seed, we fought our way to second place,” Dickerson said. “That feels pretty good.”
In the first three games of the double-elimination tournament in Wichita, the Cougars lost to the Puerto Rico National Collegiate Team, 3-11; beat the Jasper (Indiana) Reds, 10-2; and finally fell to the Newton (Kansas) Rebels, 3-11. In all three games Dickerson pitched in relief.
Coach Cerullo credited Dickerson’s consistency in a starting or relief role.
“We’re comfortable enough with putting him in those types of situations,” he said. “It’s hard to find an arm like his that can be so consistent as a starter and a reliever.”
Since he has only one more semester of classes at Middlebury College, Dickerson will take the fall semester off to complete an internship with software and data analysis company Faraday, where he will combine his dual majors in computer science and geography with work in their marketing department.
After this summer, Dickerson said his pitching has improved. While his earned runs average was 12 during the Panther season this spring, over the summer season with the Cougars he dropped that number down to 3. He also developed a “cutter,” a tricky pitch that cuts away from right-handed batters, and in toward left-handed batters that he’ll be bringing to the Middlebury Panthers squad in the spring of 2016.
Which is one of the reasons Dickerson would call his summer in Denver a success.
“Summer’s a good time to work on things like that,” he said. 

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