The Gophers got a sense for Sydney Dwyer’s talent — and her uncanny ability to make them laugh — the first time she stepped into the batter’s box.
Early in the 2015 season as a pinch hitter against California-Davis, she smashed a two-run homer. Dwyer was so excited as she started her home run trot, she tripped on first base and fell face first.
“There’s a funny picture of [assistant coach Jessica] Merchant cheering, and I’m just lying on the ground,” Dwyer said. “I still get jokes about it. I would expect nothing other than that to happen for my first at-bat.”
Dwyer is still crushing the ball now as a junior first baseman, with the No. 4 Gophers closing in on their first regular season Big Ten title since 1991. Minnesota (48-3, 19-1 Big Ten) opens the final regular-season weekend at Penn State on Friday with a two-game lead over Michigan.
Dwyer, of Bettendorf, Iowa, leads the Gophers with 69 RBI — five ahead of teammate Kendyl Lindaman and five shy of Shannon Beeler’s program record, set in 1998. Dwyer, who was one RBI behind the Division I leader coming into this week, is batting .395 with nine home runs and a .458 average with runners in scoring position.
Dwyer gave the credit to her teammates. Batting sixth in the lineup, she follows five others with ridiculous on-base percentages: Sam Macken (.430), Danielle Parlich (.357), Lindaman (.581), Maddie Houlihan (.513) and MaKenna Partain (.460).
But when it comes to generating laughs, Dwyer is the undisputed team leader.
On one bus trip last season, for example, she hid the toilet paper from the bathroom, just to see how others would react. A freshman teammate was the first victim. That was good and fun, but Merchant was next.
Coach Jessica Allister’s seventh-year assistant wasn’t pleased.
A year has passed, and Merchant, who works closely with the infielders, has helped Dwyer transition from shortstop to first base.
Asked if all was forgiven from The TP Incident, Merchant smiled and said: “No, it’s not. And every time I go to the back of the bus, I check because I will never forgive her for that. That’s hilarious.”
One of the running gags last season was how much Dwyer hated her head shot that got posted on scoreboards at opposing stadiums.
“I’d be on deck, trying not to look at it and, of course, everyone keeps egging me on,” she said. “So definitely this year, there was a lot of work put into the head shot, just in case.”
Merchant praised Dwyer’s work ethic and focus between the lines, but the coaches appreciate her sense of humor, too.
“Dwyer’s personality is exactly what you need when the games are tight,” Merchant said. “She has the ability to have everyone relax. She’ll tell them a joke, and they’re laughing, helping them stay in the moment.”
The Gophers started 19-0, endured a rocky stretch by their standards — just 10-3 — and have since reeled off another 19-0 stretch.
They won the Big Ten tournament last year and will look to defend that title next week in Ann Arbor, Mich. Then the Gophers likely will open the NCAA tournament at home May 19.
So the stakes are getting higher. But Dwyer will make sure Minnesota’s mood is light.