Karl Lindholm: ‘Value on the margins’: Phillies scout Erick Dalton
The image of a baseball scout in the popular mind is that of a wise and wizened veteran of the game, the way scouts are portrayed in “Money Ball,” for example, or like Clint Eastwood in the movie “Trouble with the Curve.”
Well, the game has changed: It is no longer the exclusive domain of baseball lifers and their male progeny, the ol’ boy network defined.
It’s a good thing too for Erick Dalton, a scout, a talent evaluator, at the highest level with the Philadelphia Phillies, who, as you recall, won the National League pennant last year in a remarkable late season run before falling to the Houston Astros in the World Series.
Erick, 41, is representative of the evolution in professional baseball away from traditional approaches in the game to an exploitation of contemporary technological sources of data and information.
He has been working in baseball for 15 years, first for the Washington Nationals (2007-2017) and for the Phillies since then, now as a “special assignment scout.”
Erick’s own athletic identity was not as a baseball player. Hardly so. He was a hockey player and coach. His vague plan upon earning an M.A. in sports management at the University of Massachusetts in 2007 was to find work in the National Hockey League.
His highest level of baseball play was Babe Ruth League ball!
But life has a way of intervening. Let’s start at the beginning.
Erick’s family lived Ripton when he was born and moved “to the mean streets of Cornwall” (as he puts it) when he was three. They lived “right down the road” from the Beaneys of Cornwall, Middlebury men’s hockey coach Bill Beaney (now retired) and his family.
He became friends with Trevor Beaney (who ultimately played college hockey at Princeton) and was a teenager when Coach Beaney’s Middlebury team went on their fabulous run of five consecutive National Championships (’94-’99): “I didn’t miss a National Championship game,” Erick reported when we met last week.
He remembers fondly playing hockey on Sergei Davydov’s pond rink on Cider Mill Road in Cornwall: “It was spectacular. He spent so much time caring for it. Two rinks really, also a speed skating oval — he built his own Zamboni!
“My parents were hoping I’d be a skier. They had ‘one rule’: They were not going to get me up at the crack of dawn for a hockey game or practice. I had to get myself out of bed.”
These wise parents are Marianne Doe, his mom, who taught English at Middlebury Union High School for 35 years and still resides in Cornwall, and Rick Dalton, his dad, who lives in Essex, N.Y., across the lake. Rick was in the Middlebury College Admissions Office for 11 years and is now the CEO and President of CFES/Brilliant Pathways, a “non-profit that helps low-income kids become college- and career-ready.”
After two years at MUHS, Erick went off to Taft School in Connecticut (“hockey was the driving force”), where he played lacrosse as well as hockey. “My best opportunity as a college hockey player was in Division III, and where else but Middlebury would I want to play?”
His hockey career was cut short by injury. In the NCAA quarterfinal game against Plattsburgh here at Middlebury in March of 2001, he was checked from behind into the boards and suffered a serious neck injury, requiring surgical spinal fusion.
“That was it,” he explained. “Collision sports were off the table. Most players with that injury are in a wheelchair.” He stayed with the Middlebury program, however, serving as an assistant coach under Bill Beaney and coaching the Middlebury JV team.
Upon graduation from Middlebury, he taught history and coached soccer, hockey, and lacrosse for two years back at Taft. “I was literally getting my cap and gown when I got a call from the Head at Taft offering me a job.”
OK, this is a hockey story. When does the baseball come in? Now!
His entry into the game was a fortuitous accident — and involves a mattress!
While earning his M.A. at UMass, he visited Taft, helping Middlebury College friend Julia Cardozo, a new teacher there, move into her dormitory apartment. Lugging a mattress up the stairs, he met her mother, Harolyn, who happened to be the executive assistant to the general manager of the Washington Nationals baseball team.
She helped arrange an internship with the Nats, and the dye was cast.
“I did ‘grunt work,’ generic baseball operations,” Erick explained. “I worked on the amateur baseball draft, compiling a database. I learned how to use the software back then. I had an apprenticeship in baseball.”
In 2009, he took on the job as video coordinator, and that led to his becoming the coordinator of advance scouting; he was good at understanding and translating the “explosion of video and data that was taking place.” Erick was appointed Director of Advanced Scouting for the Nats in 2016. “I was embedded with the team, the point person for the Nationals coaching staff, evaluating upcoming opponents — a tremendous opportunity.”
Wanting a “new direction,” he signed on to the Phillies in 2018. In this role, Special Assignment Scout, he has been able to apply what he learned in his decade with the Nationals and now provides senior management in baseball operations with player evaluations at six different levels, from A Ball to AAA and the Majors
Erick lives now in Shelburne, Vt., (“I can live almost anywhere as long as I’m close to an airport”) with his wife Jenny and their three small children, not far from his older sister Jennifer (Hinesburg) and younger sister Sarah in Stowe (Sarah, he affirms, is the athlete in family, a Division-I All-American lacrosse player at Boston University and now the women’s lacrosse coach at UVM).
Jenny has a career of her own as the director of operations for a small equity firm. They were married in his last year with the Nationals, 2017. Their first date was on her birthday, and he gave her a signed ball from Bryce Harper, her favorite player (Harper has famously followed Erick to the Phillies!).
Erick’s career path from hockey player and coach to an expert on the inner workings of the professional game, on the field, is really not so far-fetched: “I have always loved baseball,” he says. “I went to my first Red Sox game at Fenway when I was five. I’m a passionate Red Sox fan. I was star-struck when I met Joe Castiglione in the press box in 2015.”
Erick leaves this week for three weeks straight at the Phillies training camp in West Palm Beach, Fla. The baseball season has started.
Of his work, Erick says, “I like the unsexy part. I like the challenge of working far away from the bright lights of Major League cities where you can dream on players and find value on the margins.”
Karl Lindholm, Ph.D., is the Emeritus Dean of Advising at Middlebury College. Email him at email@example.com.
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