The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
O’Koyea Dickson may have fell short of a Division I transfer, but he is garnering plenty of attention at Sonoma State.
After helping College of San Mateo to a pair of postseason appearances in 2009 and 2010, Dickson opted for a Division II transfer to stay in state, where the junior slugger is off to one of the best starts in the nation. Through 17 games, Dickson is hitting .410, and leading the Seawolves with five home runs, 20 RBIs, and a .538 slugging percentage.
“I just know I’m at Sonoma State for a reason. So I’m happy here,” Dickson said.
With Sonoma State currently ranked sixth in the nation among DII teams, Dickson has his sights set on a season of destiny, both individually and as a team.
“I really like our chances (to make a run at a National Championship),” Dickson said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors and a lot of experience on this team. We’ve got guys who are hungry and who want to play at the next level. … So we just have to go out there and have fun.”
Dickson is swiftly garnering attention as a likely June draftee. Coming out of CSM last season, his 5-foot-11, 220-pound stature as a third baseman loomed as a concern. This season, however, he has made the switch to first base and is demonstrating the power to hang there. More so, he spent the offseason getting into peak physical shape.
“He’s looking like he’s going to be a drafted guy, at least at this point,” Sonoma State assistant coach Esteban Contreras said. “From the guys we’ve seen in conference, he’s the best hitter at this point.”
An academic issue — a matter of one math class actually — was the difference between a DI and a DII transfer. However, it was love of family that kept him in state. According to Dickson, he had offers from NAIA from schools in Oklahoma and Nebraska, but opted to stay in California to stay close to his family.
“I’m a big family guy,” Dickson said. “Being able to see them once or twice every two weeks is a humbling experience. To tell you the truth, I play the game of baseball for my family … because I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my family.”
Dickson recalled high-school championship games he played for Washington of San Francisco. Washington advanced to the San Francisco Section playoffs at AT&T Park all four years Dickson played. They even won the section title his sophomore year with a 16-4 win over Lowell, a game in which Dickson went 2 for 2 with a home run 10 rows deep into the left-center bleachers. The first number Dickson quotes about those games though is 30 and 50, as in the 30 to 50 family members — including his mom, dad, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins — that would turn out for every game.
“It was like my own little cheering section,” Dickson said.
In two years at CSM, Dickson continued his run of championship-caliber ball. In 2009, the Bulldogs reached the super regional playoffs. In 2010, they came within a game of winning the state championship, eventually falling to Ohlone. As a sophomore, Dickson hit for a .369 average, and tied for the Coast Golden Gate Conference home run crown with 10.
At times, the power-hitting third baseman evoked memories of former Giants great Kevin Mitchell, with his confident uppercut power stroke, and his quick defensive footwork which seemed to defy his chiseled build. Also like Mitchell, Dickson showed the ability to shoulder the team for stretches at a time.
“There were times when he would flat out carry the team,” CSM manager Doug Williams said.
Now, because of an offseason fitness regiment, Dickson is more Mitchell-esque than ever. He has dropped 10 pounds, and mechanically has worked on keeping his batting stroke more smooth through the zone. He began making strides towards these improvements over the offseason while working out at CSM. It was there he was introduced to CSM alum and current big-leaguer Daniel Nava — an introduction that changed everything for Dickson.
The two became quick friends, and Nava invited Dickson to work out with his group of personal trainers at a facility in Mountain View. Through a new regiment, Dickson dedicated himself to becoming, as he puts it: “Bigger, stronger, faster.”
“I owe a lot of my start to Daniel Nava,” Dickson said. “Being around Daniel for two or three months, he told me I’ve just got to slow everything down and let the game come to me.”
But it was Nava’s approach to hitting that really inspired Dickson.
“I kind of took his batting stance with my swing,” Dickson said. “And, I’ve been feeling pretty good.”
Now Dickson is starting to realize some big-league ambitions of his own. Sonoma State is as good a DII program at which to be scouted. The Seawolves had three players drafted last season — left-handed pitcher Scott Alexander, right-handed pitcher Tyler Hess, and outfielder Tillman Pugh. This season, Sonoma State shortstop Alex Todd received preseason All-American honors. With Todd, right-handed pitcher Kenny Arnerich, and Dickson, Sonoma State has a chance to see another trio of players drafted this year.
From a baseball standpoint, there have got to be some DI programs kicking themselves for missing out on a talent like Dickson.
“Yes, I think they very much are,” Contreras said. “The one thing about O’Koyea is he … doesn’t stand out at one position, so a lot of teams didn’t know where he was going to fit.”
One thing is for sure, though. He fits in the heart of the Sonoma State batting order.