BY MICHELLE MILLER
Many people know this year’s National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson as ``The Hawk.’’ However, he was called ``pudgy’’ back in the day around home.
Dawson told Cooperstown Middle School students he is unsure how he obtained that nickname because he was never overweight as a child.
The former center- and rightfielder, who spent 21 years in the majors, was at the Cooperstown Middle/High School Friday to talk to students about how character and courage fueled his passion for the sport. His appearance was a part of the Hall of Fame’s third-annual salute to character and courage, a weekend that honors sportsmanship traits.
Dawson, who played for four Major League baseball teams, told students one of his uncles started calling him ``The Hawk,’’ when he was about 10 years old.
``As a child I worked out on a men’s senior (baseball) team,’’ said Dawson. ``They wouldn’t allow me to play in the infield because I was so young, but I shagged balls in the outfield.’’
It was during this act that Dawson’s uncle noticed his nephew was not like most children his age. Dawson said his uncle told him he seemed to attack the ball instead of shying away from it, which reminded him of a hawk. The eight-time Gold Glove Award winner said his two uncles were like mentors to him while growing up. He said their advice made it hard for him to sleep at night.
``They were perfectionists and only wanted me to do my very best,’’ said Dawson.
Although Dawson said his uncles had a great influence on him, he said his grandmother was his ``chief mentor.’’ He said she taught him that anything is possible.
``She set the ground rules,’’ he said. ``When I look back, she always said the right thing at the right time.
``My grandmother always taught me you have to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and know you’ve given it your best effort,” added Dawson.
Dawson said he often his grandmother saying: ``Get on your knees and pray because you can overcome anything with faith.’’
Dawson said although he fell in love with the game when he was first introduced to it at the age of 9, he did not realize he had what it took to become an elite player until he was drafted with the Montreal Expos.
``“I only wanted to be a professional baseball player.’’ said Dawson. ``You need to work hard to play at that level and succeed at that level.’’
The Miami native said he was not picked as ``most likely to succeed.ö However, he said people told him he had lot of drive and potential and kept that in mind. He said he continued to push forward.
Dawson said he kept getting better as a player with hard work and dedication and was able to play ball in college. Dawson said he did not receive a scholarship to play college ball, but did make the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Rattlers as a walk-on.
``I just took the attitude that I was blessed and that I needed to make the most out of it,’’ he said.
There are millions of children out there who want the same thing, no matter what sport they aspire to play, said Dawson. He said the key is to really want it and to put the work into making that dream come true.
Dawson said he never really tried to attach himself to any particular role model or mentor because he felt he is his own individual. It is good to find others inspiring, or want to accomplish something great like someone else, but one must remember to be his or her own person, said Dawson.
Dawson said key players that stuck out to him were Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. They were always in the headlines, he said.
``I would not go as far as to say I idolized them, but I followed them and their success,’’ said Dawson. Dawson said throughout his career he learned that one might not be able to control what happens, but can control how to react to a situation. He said critics didn’t think he would last four seasons.
``When I began playing major league baseball I knew it was not going to be easy,” he said. ``You’re going to bleed, you’re going to sweat, you’ll have days when you want to throw in the towel. You’re going to fail more than you succeed, but you’ve got to learn from those failures and how to not make those mistakes over again.
Despite 12 knee operations, Dawson ended his career with 438 big league home runs and 314 stolen bases, won the 1987 National League Most Valuable Player Award with the last-place Cubs and finished his career with 1,591 runs batted in (RBI).