(Photos by Michelle Felter, Staff)
SIKESTON -- It wasn't the same type of sold-out crowd to which he is accustomed. But in front of a packed room, Blake DeWitt summarized the past year as "spectacular" for him.
The Los Angeles Dodger shared his experiences Thursday at the monthly luncheon of the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce. As he took to the podium, the crowd, which also lined up throughout the luncheon for autographs and photographs, gave him a standing ovation.
"And I jumped right in there and had a pretty good spring," said DeWitt. In late July, DeWitt was optioned to the Dodgers triple-A minor league team in Las Vegas after the team acquired a third baseman from the Cleveland Indians. About a month later, DeWitt was recalled to Los Angeles to start at second base after the regular starter was sidelined.
Along with the ride were a lot of ups and downs. "And I couldn't have gotten through it without a lot of support," said DeWitt. He commended his family, friends, and other members of the Sikeston community for their unwavering backing.
After a short speech, DeWitt admitted he isn't much for giving speeches, so opened the floor for questions from other members.
When asked for his impression on Coach Joe Torre, DeWitt called him confident. "He walks in and it just stops the room," said DeWitt.
"You buy into what he says pretty quick," DeWitt continued. "You never second-guess him."
On his nervousness before games, DeWitt said anxiety was definitely present. "You know, that first one was kind of tough ... it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before," said DeWitt.
The first time the Dodgers played the St. Louis Cardinals, a team DeWitt said he grew up watching and admiring, he was also jittery. "I may have been more nervous playing the Cardinals than I was the first game of the season," said DeWitt.
And when he hit his first home run of the season, DeWitt said he didn't believe it at first. "L.A. is a hard park to hit a home run in," he said. Several times before, he thought he hit one, only to have it just miss being a home run or be caught.
"So I was afraid I would go from a big emotional high to nothing," he said. "I thought they would catch it."
When he realized it was a home run, though, DeWitt said he "sprinted all the way to home" after rounding first base. It was also a good thing his team was ahead that game, because he was still shaking when he went out to play defense the next inning, recalled DeWitt.
One person asked what a typical game day is like, and DeWitt said most every night turns into a late night. "But it's fun, and I wouldn't change it for anything," he said.
When he goes in for spring training this year, DeWitt said he would likely be more relaxed and have a different approach.
He also had some advice for younger players who may aspire to be "the next Blake DeWitt."
"Work hard and love what you're doing," said DeWitt. "That's something I had to learn last year."
It was quite frustrating to never know what team he would play for. "But it's not the end of the world," said DeWitt.
Prior to DeWitt's time at the podium, others spoke well of him.
Mayor Mike Marshall, calling Sikeston a "fantastic town," for producing such talent, presented DeWitt with a key to the city. Also on behalf of the SACC, Joe Bill Davis, vice president, presented him a plaque dubbing DeWitt as a "Sikeston Star."
The Sikeston High School baseball team and Coach Kevin Self were on hand at the luncheon, also to recognize DeWitt for his accomplishments.
Self announced that, beginning in the spring, No. 6, which DeWitt wore, will no longer be issued. "We will have a ceremony in the spring," he said.
Later in the afternoon, Self also presented DeWitt with the uniform and jacket the baseball player wore to state tournaments while in high school.
Also in attendance were four students from St. Francis Xavier.
"I wanted to show students what you can accomplish by working hard," said Nic Antoine, principal. One student from each class in second through fifth grade was brought to the lunch, based on their academic excellence over the past two weeks.