By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Curt Dixon, a McAlester High School graduate and assistant baseball coach at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, had known about the Texas Collegiate League for several years. Before coming to EOSC in 2011, Dixon worked at Clarke University in Iowa, sending several players to play in the TCL.
“They’ve got a really good nucleus of host families and sponsorships,” Dixon said Friday.
A managing position with the Brazos Valley Bombers, a TCL team, opened up before the 2012 summer season, and Dixon said other coaches encouraged him to apply, as it would look good on his coaching resume. Dixon applied, got the job and came back for the 2013 season.
That 2013 team won more regular-season games than any team in TCL history, won the championship on Aug. 14 and was named best summer league team in the nation by Perfect Game USA on Aug. 20.
“It’s something I didn’t picture,” Dixon said.
“The goal was to win the TCL and be the TCL champions.”
The Bombers finished with a 49-15 record. They went 46-14 during the regular season — including a phenomenal 26-4 in the first half — then 3-1 in the playoffs.
They beat the Victoria Generals, 7-5, on Aug. 14 at American Momentum Bank Ballpark in Bryan, Texas.
The top national ranking came within a week of the Bombers’ championship. The Bombers were never ranked No. 1 during the season, according to an article on PerfectGame.org, but when higher-ranked teams failed to win their respective leagues, the Bombers jumped into first.
The Bombers beat out two teams from the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts, a team from the West Coast League in northwest America and Canada, and a team from the Northwoods League in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“It’s unreal,” Dixon said of his top ranking.
Dixon credited his team’s success to his strong pitching rotation and bullpen. Texas A&M pitcher Parker Ray struck out 14 in one playoff game, and reliever Jason Freeman struck out 10 more in the championship.
“He’s improved his draft stock so much,” Dixon said of Ray. “He pitches like a 28, 29-year-old in a 21-year-old body.
“We played six nights a week, and every night just rolled out a quality pitcher. ... We got a lead, and with our pitching we never really looked back.”
The Bombers also got terrific offensive contributions from G.R. Hinsley, who set a TCL record with 55 RBIs.
“It was a really special group of kids this year,” Dixon said.
“I was able to catch Coach of the Year for the second time in the league, and that’s just a testament to the players I had play for me.”
Because TCL rosters usually contain many Division I or top junior-college players, Dixon said most players start the season in May with the necessary motivation and work ethic. Trying to create a simultaneously intense and relaxed atmosphere — a necessary balance in a league where teams play 60 games in about 10 weeks — he said he saw his main responsibility as pulling the team together enough to play hard for each other.
“There’s not too much teaching going on,” Dixon said.
“As a manager, you have to create the environment, and you have to create the chemistry.”
With the season now over, Dixon returns to EOSC, where he’ll get to work with fellow McAlester alumni and current EOSC ballplayers Adam Boyd and Troy Meadows.
But having accomplished so much in his first two years as a summer-league coach, Dixon’s thoughts will no doubt at some point return to Texas.