1. Sports

Former two-sport player D.J. Dozier is rooting for Tim Tebow

Published Sep. 18, 2016

D.J. Dozier was a rookie running back with the Vikings in 1987, enjoying one of the perks that come with being a first-round pick on the local NFL team: World Series tickets.

The Twins and Cardinals took the Fall Classic to seven games, and Dozier had a coveted seat inside the Metrodome. That's where Dozier's dream of playing in the majors reawakened.

It had been four years since he played shortstop for his high school in Virginia Beach in front of an audience of scouts. One, from the Yankees, asked what it would take for Dozier to sign.

"One-hundred thousand? Two-hundred?"

Dozier's football scholarship to Penn State scared teams away. Still, the Tigers drafted him in the 18th round after his senior year.

Now, after an All-America career at Penn State and a current job as the feature back for a team headed to the NFC title game, Dozier found himself sitting in the sea of Homer Hanky-waving Twins fans and contemplating the ultimate misdirection run.

"Something clicked in me," Dozier said. "I just started thinking, 'Wow, I could do that.' That was in '87. In '89 I had thoughts that were overwhelming that I could do that. I called my agent, who thought I was nuts."

Nuts, maybe. But not wrong.

A handful of athletes have played simultaneously in the NFL and major leagues, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders chief among them. And there have been some who left pro baseball for football, including Russell Wilson and Chris Weinke.

But as far as anyone can tell, only one left the NFL for baseball and reached the big leagues: D.J. Dozier, who eventually played briefly for the Mets.

"I got my cup of coffee," Dozier said.

• • •

Tim Tebow? Now he is nuts. That's the consensus as the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, who played in 34 NFL games over three seasons, reports to Port St. Lucie today to begin a career as a pro baseball player with the Mets.

His first step is the instructional league, where low-level prospects continue to work on skills that might someday lead them to the big leagues.

As with all things Tebow, this chapter in his life is not without backlash. He has been ridiculed by baseball players and scouts and fans. The media, naturally, is not 100 percent on board.

Dozier, 50, is a senior vice president of a software company who also acts as a business adviser for small and nonprofit organizations. He lives in Chesapeake, Va. He first heard of Tebow's latest news from a friend then later watched as it was dissected on ESPN.

He smiled. In another time, the talking heads would have been dissecting him.

In 1992 Dozier reached the Mets as an outfielder. He played in 25 games, had 47 at-bats and hit .191.

And he's wishing Tebow the same if not more success.

"Absolutely," Dozier said. "For anybody to say he's disrespecting the game, I don't get it. We live in America. Why not? Why not at least try? Would you have more respect for a person who tried? Or more respect for a person who didn't try?

"Foreigners come to this country because it's a land where their dreams can come true. What's wrong with a guy having a dream? It's a tough one. Let him go for it without all the negative comments."

• • •

Dozier was 23 when he returned to baseball, young enough to still be thought of as a prospect. Tebow is 29.

It won't be an easy road for Tebow, Dozier said.

Ever hit a changeup? A slider?

"When I was in high school I didn't even know what a slider was," Dozier said.

Tebow will see sliders if this new career progresses that far. He'll see changeups and two-seam fastball and cutters and curves that drop out of the sky.

Dozier went five years without playing baseball. Tebow hasn't played since his junior year at Ponte Vedra Nease High in 2005.

"No doubt there will be rust," Dozier said.

But Dozier said Tebow, just like himself, enters this endeavor lacking in experience but not lacking confidence.

"You got to have that, 'I can do this.' Whether you can do it or not, you have to have confidence," Dozier said. "I was one of those guys who was blind and deaf enough to believe that I could do it regardless what other people thought."

Some scouts who attended Tebow's closed workout earlier this month see this quest as a waste of time. Others saw his bat speed and raw tools as at least a decent starting point.

Tebow has said the two things he loves most in sports is playing quarterback and hitting a baseball.

No one wants him to play quarterback. The Mets are willing to give him the opportunity to hit a baseball.

gt;• • •

Dave Rosenfield is the executive vice president and senior advisor to the president of the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles Triple A team. In 1989 he was the general manager of the Tidewater Tides, the Mets Triple A affiliate.

Rosenfield knew Dozier for years. He repeatedly told Dozier never to give up his dream of playing baseball.

When Dozier decided to give baseball a shot he called Rosenfield. Rosenfield called Joe McIlvaine, the Mets assistant general manager who had scouted Dozier when Dozier was playing high school baseball.

The Mets flew Dozier to Port St. Lucie for a tryout. They saw potential and assigned him to rookie league, where he spent hours each day learning to play the outfield with former big-league outfielder Bake McBride.

Dozier left football for good and played for the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League the following year. From there it was a quick move through the chain, reaching the majors in 1992.

"I had enough success to continue to build my confidence and move up the ranks at a decent pace," Dozier said.

Rosenfield sees similarities between Tebow and Dozier. Both are above-average athletes. Both are high-character people.

Tebow's layoff is much longer, a big hurdle.

"Obviously, the most difficult thing probably in sports is hitting a baseball," Rosenfield said. "Hand-eye coordination is a huge part of it. I think if he can swing the bat and hit it hard, I don't see why he can't make it. The shortcoming that everybody talked about with Tebow was his arm, that he didn't have a very good arm. In baseball, if you can hit they'll find a way to play you."

• • •

Tebow has talked about regrets. He's aware of the public pushback.

He told "A lot of people are like, 'What if you fail? What if you don't make it?' Guess what? I don't have to live with regret. I did everything I could, I pushed it, so I would rather be someone (who) can live with peace and no regret than the 'what if' or being scared if I didn't make it."

Dozier understands the feeling. For that reason alone, he is rooting for Tebow.

"I applaud it. Standing O," Dozier said. "I think it's great. Why leave this life with any regrets?"