Brian Dozier was born in Mississippi and recently bought a house in Hattiesburg, where he works out with the Southern Miss baseball team and catches the occasional glimpse of local hero Brett Favre.
Dozier loves baseball, hunting, fishing and Southern living. So why did he spend chunks of his winter digging trenches in Nicaragua and riding in an odoriferous bus through the godforsaken snowlands of Minnesota?
The only explanations would be a poor sense of direction, or a good heart.
In November, he and his bride-to-be, Renee, volunteered to serve a mission in Nicaragua. For eight days, they slept on bunks, ate rice and beans or peanut butter and jelly and dug clean-water trenches, because so many Nicaraguans die from ingesting tainted water.
Rice and beans? Peanut butter and jelly? For a big-league athlete?
“Well,” Dozier said, “once in a while they’d find a chicken.”
In early January, he married Renee and they honeymooned in Maui.
This week, Dozier flew to Minnesota — there is as yet no evidence of threats or coercion — to voluntarily ride in a bus with other Twins representatives on the Twins Caravan through our customized version of the Polar Vortex.
The bus ride left Dozier with two options: Step outside and freeze, or stay inside and inhale the kind of noxious fumes that other current and former ballplayers find strangely amusing. Closer Glen Perkins used Twitter to accuse busmate Tom Brunansky, the Twins hitting coach, of tormenting his fellow passengers.
“I got told baseball stories I didn’t even know existed,” Dozier said, veering toward the high road.
Thursday night, in something of a culmination of his life-changing winter, Dozier attended the Twins’ Diamond Awards and received the Most Improved Twin and Media Good Guy awards.
For years, ballplayers have joined teams in Latin America to hone their skills, and they have brought back stories about wild fans and sometimes questionable living conditions. Dozier’s one winter ball experience: a trip to Venezuela two years ago that he cut short because he wasn’t getting enough work.
So why would Dozier make a five-hour flight to the Third World when the trip couldn’t benefit his career?
“Me and my wife wanted to do something before we got married, a couples kind of thing, and this mission trip came up,” he said. “We hooked up with a church from Atlanta — her cousin goes every year — and set it up. We didn’t know anybody down there.
“We both come from big Christian backgrounds. We both wanted to do mission trips. What a perfect thing to do.”
This weekend’s baseball festivities — the Diamond Awards and TwinsFest — signal that Dozier’s globe-trotting winter is almost over. He will turn 27 on May 15. He is no longer a prospect. He has entered the proving years.
As a rookie callup in 2012, he hit .234 with a .271 on-base percentage and a .332 slugging percentage.
Last year, the Twins moved him from shortstop to second base, and he hit .244 with a .312 on-base percentage and a .414 slugging percentage.
After turning himself into one of the better players on a bad team, he wants more.
“Last year, I had to make an adjustment,” Dozier said. “I had a couple of holes in my swing. Defensively, I rushed a bunch of stuff. I didn’t want to be the rookie who was still trying to find it after two or three years. I had to change something.
“I had the position change, from short to second. [Manager Ron Gardenhire and GM Terry Ryan] wanted me to move, and when your boss says do it, you have to do it. That took a lot of effort.
“I’ve worked on some things. I want to get better. I don’t want to just be an average second baseman in the game. I want to be at the top of the list. And I want to win some more baseball games.”