The latest chapter in Chase Dawson’s baseball journey could be coming to an end this week. The Valparaiso University second baseman and former Andrean standout is still hoping his story has a few more left.
Dawson and the Crusaders will take on Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament opener Tuesday afternoon. Should Valparaiso win the single-elimination game against the Bears, it would take on regular-season champion Dallas Baptist on Wednesday morning.
Valparaiso has an uphill road to climb in the Valley tournament, but Dawson is well-versed in being an underdog. Standing at 5-foot-10, Valparaiso’s everyday second baseman came to campus as a walk-on after winning a pair of state championships with the 59ers. The Chesterton native worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman and has been a mainstay ever since.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career,” Dawson said. “I thought going in to college it would be just like high school and everything would come easy to me. Next thing you know, I learned what hard work was. These last four years have taught me how to battle a lot. It’s been a good journey.”
It’s a journey that Dawson hopes will continue after this season. The 2015 Andrean graduate wasn’t sure if he had a future in baseball until last summer when he played for the Martinsville (Virginia) Mustangs of the Coastal Plain League. He led the league in batting average (.395) and was named All-CPL First Team as well as a CPL All-Star that competed against the USA Collegiate National Team.
“I learned about myself more than anything,” Dawson said. “My host family had a batting cage, so I’d go out there a couple times a day and just work on my swing. I was able to really learn what I was doing. I took that into the fall and the winter and it’s been really beneficial.”
Dawson hit .265 while starting all 53 games as a junior, but his experience in the CPL helped run his average up to a team-best .331 this season. Dawson also leads the team in runs (39), hits (55), triples (five) and stolen bases (six). His 17 strikeouts are by far the fewest on the team of any player who has started a bulk of the games this season.
“We always say that the lineup makes itself out and Chase is a guy that made it really easy to put him in the lineup every day,” Valparaiso coach Brian Schmack said. “He produced and performed right away, and then he kept getting better. We had him at the bottom of the lineup and then up to leadoff, and now we’ve got him third. It’s all him. He put himself in that position.”
Now Dawson is hoping he’s in position to be drafted this June. Crusaders catcher and Schererville native Scott Kapers was selected in the 17th round by the Texas Rangers last season, becoming the eighth Valparaiso player drafted in the previous nine years.
“My goal is to play at the next level,” Dawson said. “I hope that somebody sees something in me that I see. I’m going to keep working hard. I want to be prepared and I’m confident that something can happen. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Before Dawson starts thinking about professional baseball, he’s eager to get to work with his Valparaiso teammates for one last shot at an NCAA tournament bid that has alluded the program since the school made back-to-back trips in 2012-13. The Crusaders (14-35) won just six games in the Valley, a conference that has the sixth highest RPI in the country. Valparaiso opens with Missouri State, a team that just swept the Crusaders in three games over the weekend.
“The wins might not be there this season, but I’m not counting ourselves out of this tournament yet,” Dawson said. “We’ve been clicking as of late and with these coaches and these guys, I wouldn’t trade this group for anything.”