BY DAVID RUSSELL
Heisman-trophy winner, two-time national champion and Florida Gators quarterback legend Tim Tebow has brought attention to the Instructional League when the Mets signed him despite his not having played baseball since high school. DJ Dozier can understand at some level. He was the running back on the Penn State team that won the 1986 national championship team, and played for the Mets in 1992. He was receiving texts from his friend and was told that not only was Tebow trying to play baseball, but he was signed by the Mets. “You’re kidding me,” Dozier said. “What are the odds?”
Dozier scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 1987 Fiesta Bowl against Miami, and scored a touchdown in a playoff game for the Vikings the next season. “Most people don’t even know that I played baseball,” Dozier said. “They find out and they’re shocked.
But for me, to not play for all the years I didn’t play, and then to start to play while I was also playing in the NFL, I had to pinch myself.”
Dozier had been drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1983, but instead played football for the Nittany Lions. But the dream of playing baseball stayed with him, and he joined the Mets organization in 1989. “I had a great experience because the Mets had a great organization and a great minor league program. I stepped into a program which was conducive for a guy like me who had been out of baseball for six years.”
When he went out to take swings for the first time, he faced Dwight Gooden. “He wasn’t throwing 100 percent, but he was putting it in there. He had some zip on it,” Dozier said.
Dozier knows making the switch in sports is tough but it can be done. “If you have the athletic ability and the mental capacity to handle the game, you’re in a good place.” The game is tough enough for college players that have gone through the system, and even more for someone who hasn’t played in 10 years. “But you’re still an athlete and you’ve got to shake off that rust,” Dozier said.
During his time in college, he was watching a Pittsburgh Pirates game with his roommates when he told his friends he could play baseball. They laughed at him. Years later, his friends were in the stadium when Dozier came into town with the Mets and doubled. “After the game they’re beside themselves,” Dozier said. “I can’t believe it. You said you can do it,” they told him.
Dozier has some advice for Tebow as the former Jet tries to become a Met. “Be as patient as possible. Realize, no matter what, that it takes time. It’s one at-bat, one game, one practice session at a time.”