It was two weeks into spring training, and Corey Dickerson found himself overthinking. He stood in the batter’s box and found himself focusing more on how he was digging his back heel into the ground than how he wanted to approach the opposing pitcher. His mind raced about fixing his mechanics.
That’s not how Corey Dickerson succeeds.
“When I hit,” the outfielder said, “I never worry about that. I gaze into a zone and I attack that zone. I don’t worry about physical stuff.”
Dickerson, like most baseball players, is a creature of habit. Routine consumes him. It’s a byproduct of his seven seasons of Major League Baseball experience.
He has had the highs of playing in an All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove award. He’s gone through the lows of seasons being cut short due to injury and bouncing around team after team despite being a career .286 hitter with 115 home runs and 370 RBI to his name.
He has an internal drive to find a way — any way — to improve his game, even at 30 years old. That mindset, coupled with his ability to be a steady force on offense, played an active role in the Miami Marlins signing him to a two-year contract this offseason.
The Marlins’ hope is that he helps stabilize the top of their lineup once the season begins and plays a factor in them turning around the franchise’s fortunes in Year 3 of their rebuild. They routinely had him batting third when the bulk of the starters were in the lineup during spring training games.
When exactly they will see if he can do that is to be determined as MLB postponed Opening Day by at least two weeks due to the growing coronavirus pandemic.
Dickerson wants to be that steady figure, too. However, that has creates dueling tasks for him during spring training between tinkering with his approach and maximizing his results.
“It’s hard. I beat myself up right now [in spring training] because I treat the at-bats like it’s the World Series,” Dickerson said, “but then again, sometimes during my at-bats right now, I’m working on things and it gets in the way of the compete, of the will. I’ve hit .300 because I feel I have a will inside of me that when the lights turn on and my performance is going to go on the back of my baseball card, there’s a different willpower and focus.”
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One thing is certain, though: Dickerson’s “will” to hit has been there since his prep career in Brookhaven, Mississippi.
He hit 45 home runs in four years at Brookhaven Academy, including 15 during his senior year. Both are Mississippi State Private School Association records. He also set school single-season records in batting average (.591) and RBI (55).
As for his two seasons at Meridian Community College before being drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the eighth round of the 2010 MLB Draft? Dickerson hit .381 with 15 home runs as a freshman and followed it up with a .459 batting average and 21 home runs as a sophomore.
That success has translated to his time in the big leagues since making his debut in 2013.
Of his seven MLB seasons, the only time he finished below a .263 average was in 2016 when he hit .245 in his first of two seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has driven in at least 50 runs in all five seasons that he has played at least 70 games and has hit at least 24 home runs in a season on three different occasions.
“Corey’s a guy I haven’t really paid a ton of attention to,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, “because I just know he’s always hit.”
And as of late, he’s been more cognizant of his body and trying to improve his defensive skills. He peaked at about 230 pounds following the 2015 season with the Rockies — one in which he missed time due to fractured ribs and plantar fasciitis. At that point, Dickerson acknowledged he made “myself more unathletic by getting super heavy.”
“Yeah, I was strong,” Dickerson said, “but I made myself tighter. I wasn’t moving well.”
He weighs about 210 pounds now and said he’s “a better athlete now than I was when I was 20. I’m faster than I was when I came into the game. And I think I’m still improving. That’s the most important thing. You keep evolving, always searching for how to work.”
The evolution of Corey Dickerson is still a work in progress. The next chapter, whenever it starts, will take place in Miami as he continues perfecting his craft.
“You have a job to do,” Dickerson said. “It’s still a game. It’s a business but it’s a game. You try to bring your energy. ... If you have a good relationship with your teammates and a good environment in the clubhouse, the play on the field will go up. If I don’t do my purpose here, the game will forget you. I want to leave a legacy with the way I go about my business. That’s what I believe in. If you take care of your business, everything else will take care of itself.”