Sam Dexter hits for the Fargo-Morehead RedHawks last season. The RedHawks compete in the American Association, a league with teams throughout the upper Midwest. Contributed photo

Sam Dexter was on his way to Pomona, New York to begin the shortened baseball season with the New York Boulders when he got the call. He was no longer a Boulder, before he actually got to play a game as a Boulder.

“It was early July. I’m on my way to New York to play, to start the season. I’m about to Worcester, Massachusetts, and I get the call that I’ve been traded to Fargo,” Dexter said.

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Boulders and their league, the Frontier League, from starting the season on time. Now that a truncated season, with just four teams, was set to get underway, Dexter was off to the Fargo-Morehead RedHawks of the American Association, a league with teams throughout the upper Midwest.

When you love playing baseball, you shrug, drive on to your grandparents’ house in upstate New York, and prepare to go wherever they tell you to go.

An Oakland native, Dexter graduated from Messalonskee High School in 2012. He then went on to an all-American baseball career at the University of Southern Maine, earning national Player of the Year honors from d3baseball.com in 2015. Dexter was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2016. He spent two seasons in the White Sox minor league organization, and has since played three years of independent league baseball. Trois-Rivieres, Quebec in 2018. Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2019. And Fargo, North Dakota this summer, along with Santa Barabara, California and New York.

Yeah, even in a pandemic-shortened season, Dexter played for three teams in two months.

“You’ve got to really love the game if you’re going to travel coast to coast in a pandemic,” Dexter said, “and I love the game.”

RedHawks management wanted Dexter to get in some games before he joined the team in Fargo. So they sent him to Santa Barbara to play with for Anderson’s Soup. The team with a Little League name was actually made up of independent league players. The took on the Santa Barbara Foresters, a collegiate summer team loaded with college all-stars since the prestigious Cape Cod League canceled the season.

From Santa Barbara, Dexter went back east to Washington, Pennsylvania, to play a weekend series with the Black Sox, a traveling independent team put together to give the Frontier League another opponent. Jake Dexter, Sam’s younger brother and fellow USM graduate, pitched in relief for the Washington Wild Things, appearing in six of the team’s 18 games. Jake Dexter was 2-0, with a 1.74 ERA and five strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and two walks.

Finally, in August, Dexter joined the RedHawks, where he played shortstop for the remainder of the season, 22 games. Dexter hit .309 in Fargo, scoring 11 runs and driving in 13 more. Dexter was named the American Association Batter of the Week for the week of Aug. 18-24 after going 10-for-23, with eight RBI, four doubles, and two home runs.

“I got off to a hot start, and that’s always clutch,” Dexter said. “I was getting some good pitches to hit, and I was hitting them. I got it going for a few weeks.”

Normally a 12-team league, the American Association played with just six clubs this summer. Dexter played in the league last year for the Milwaukee Milkmen, and thought this summer the league was tougher. Each of the six teams that played was able to draft players from the six teams that took the summer off. Players from minor league teams affiliated with Major League Baseball clubs joined the league.

Shortstop Sam Dexter makes a play during a 2019 game for the Milwaukee Milkmen, an independent pro baseball team. Dexter now plays for the Fargo-Morehead RedHawks of the American Association. Contributed photo

“There was a pretty high talent level,” Dexter said.

The RedHawks were tested for the coronavirus every Monday, and also were tested for the virus’ antibodies. Players had their temperature checked upon arrival each day, and masks were required in the dugout. Failure to wear a mask properly resulted in a $25 fine, which to guys making low minor league salaries is a lot. Nobody on the team tested positive, Dexter said.

Now Dexter is back in Maine, beginning work on a master’s degree in Leadership Studies at USM. He’s working as an assistant coach with the Huskies baseball program, and Dexter knows he can’t do much better in studying leadership than an apprenticeship under longtime baseball coach Ed Flaherty.

“I’m thankful to be here. I’ll help out as long as I can,” Dexter said.

Dexter has talked to RedHawks management about returning next season. He played well in his brief time in Fargo, and he liked the ballpark, on the campus of North Dakota State University, with the Fargo Dome just beyond the left field wall. Dexter was left with the impression the team would like him back, as well.

But this is independent minor league baseball. Even the best plans change. Dexter has already been traded three times, from Trois-Rivieres to Milwaukee to New York to Fargo. You might get traded while driving to training camp. Sometimes you end up playing on three teams in two months, travelling thousands of miles to do so.

If you love the game, it’s just another opportunity.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

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