SportStars Magazine

Berkeley’s Center of Attention

Michael Dixon

With Talented Center Fielder Michael Dixon Leading The Charge, Berkeley Baseball Is Turning Heads In 2018 •

Story By JAMES G. KANE | Photos By BERRY EVANS III

Berkeley High School baseball coach Curtis Sandeford put his chin to his hand and gazed his glance downward. A few seconds later, he took a step back, rubbed his chin a couple of times and looked back to the sky.

For another second or two, he was lost in thought.

It really is just that hard to pick out something that Berkeley High School center fielder Michael Dixon has done on a baseball field that stands out above the rest. Dixon’s skills and feats would fit well in a treasure chest, because well, there’s just so many to treasure.

“Hmm,” Sandeford says. “One thing?”

He gazes down again and taps his foot.

 

Dixon unleashes a threw from the outfield against Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland in late April.

“Talking about the The Freak?” one player says, smiling, as he walks by. 

Always — at least, it seems that way lately for Sandeford, the second-year coach of the Yellowjackets who not only is coaching a player with enough tools to make any normal coach freak out, but a team that is emerging as one of the area’s best.

“We’re excited about how good we can become, and what we can do,” Michael Dixon said. “It’s a really good all-around team. We do everything pretty well.”

That reality has translated on the scoreboard through the season’s early weeks. The Yellowjackets have already rolled out a 10-game winning streak, and entered a critical home-and-home showdown in the West Alameda County Foothill League against Alameda on April 25 with 14 victories over their first 16 games.

Alameda had the conference lead. Berkeley has the leading man.

“He’s pretty amazing to watch,” senior shortstop Caleb Millikan said.

The numbers do him some justice. 

The junior hit .441 through his team’s first 13 games and clubbed four home runs early before “teams starting giving him the Barry Bonds treatment,” pitching coach Don Dennett said. Dixon makes pitchers pay for the approach; he also led the Yellowjackets with seven stolen bases.

That said, his numbers are not nearly as big as his rep. Dixon earned a spot as a MaxPreps.com Underclass All-American last season after hitting eight home runs and driving in 28. He also played in the prestigious Area Code Underclass Games, a showcase for California’s best talent.

Dixon was hitting .441 through his team’s first 13 games.

Dixon’s is immense. A right-handed hitter, he packs a short, compact swing that produces a wickedly fast stroke. He’s ridiculously strong, too, with thick biceps and a barrel chest on a 6-foot, 190-pound frame that is supported by tree trunk thighs. The ball flies off his bat like a rocket sent into orbit, as evidenced by the atom ball Dixon sent to the right-field fence 280-feet away at a recent practice — despite hitting it off the very end of the bat.

“He’s powerful,” Sandeford said.

Hitting the ball is one thing. But just ask Dixon about the moment that stands out the most in his mind.

“Little League,” he said. “I really admired (Los Angeles Angels superstar) Mike Trout, and the way he would rob home runs in the outfield. I usually was shortstop in Little League, but one day I was out in center field. Somebody hit one, and I just ran and ran and ran and then jumped and put my glove up. I robbed a home run.”

It’s not only the world’s greatest players who inspire him.

“Make sure you mention (Daniel Martinez-Krams), our other center fielder,” he says. “He’s going to Stanford. He’s a real high achiever. He inspires me every day. He told me, ‘You help me with baseball. I’ll help you with school.’ That’s the kind of guy he is.”

It’s the kind of way this team is.

“Our biggest strength, in my opinion, is our camaraderie,” Millikan said. “Before the games, there’s music, and we have the best DJ, and we kind of dance around. Don’t get me wrong, we’re ready to play, but that’s kind of how we get ready to play. We like being around one another. It gets us loose and keeps us loose. You can’t play this game well if you’re not relaxed and loose.”

Berkeley shortstop Caleb Millikan.

Millikan is a bit of an inspiration himself. He entered the weekend hitting .333 and had brought stability to Berkeley’s infield, a season after having surgery on the labrum of his right throwing shoulder. The injury to the right-handed thrower did not cost him a season; Millikan played as a left-handed thrower.

There is plenty of other talent, too. Pitchers Justice Paraiso-Caceres and Will Moscato had combined to produce seven victories, a 1.95 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 64.2 innings, leading a staff that won’t win any pitch-speed contests.

Behind the plate, catcher Max Joseph anchors the pitchers with the kind of steady, self-assured mentality you’d expect from someone who’s weighing whether to attend Cal or Harvard in the fall.

“We throw strikes, and we catch the ball,” Sandeford said. “We use our speed, we try to take an extra base. We’re not gonna wow you.”

Well, most of them won’t. One of them — it’s quite likely he will.

Sandeford said Dixon is a throwback to a time when the city and school regularly produced pro-caliber talent. Former A’s manager Billy Martin, current NBC Sports Bay Area A’s commentator Shooty Babitt and one-time A’s outfielder Claudell Washington all were Berkeley High products, as was Brian Quinn, an infielder the A’s traded in their acquisition of Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley.

Dixon is committed to play baseball in 2020 for the University of San Diego. What happens after that? Or before that, if a Major League Baseball team decides to draft him in an early round next June? Who knows, but people around Berkeley are dreaming big.

“He’s the real deal,” Sandeford said. “Michael Dixon’s the best talent to come out of this area in a long, long time. He’ll do something every time you see him play that’ll make you remember him.”

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