Sawyer Legends: Mike Dodig

Mike Dodig takes a swing.

Mike Dodig takes a swing.

For Mike E. Dodig Sr., baseball is the “perfect sport.” The 2016 Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame inductee has been playing baseball all his life, and he’ll bring his combined experience into the dugout on the coaching staff of the Saugerties Stallions.

“From the time I could walk I had a bat in my hand, literally,” said Dodig, who recently retired from the Saugerties Police Department after 21 years of service. “We’re a baseball family, and baseball comes first when it comes to sports, always has. From as long as I can remember, I’ve been playing baseball. It’s the king of sports in my opinion. It’s part of the fabric of our family, and I don’t just mean my immediate family, with my dad, my brother and my mom. All my first cousins, we all played baseball. Baseball was what we did.”

It should come as no surprise that some of Dodig’s greatest athletic accomplishments were on the baseball diamond. His first organized baseball came as an 8-year-old member of the Reds, a team in the Saugerties Little League Grasshoppers program. Eligible for the Little League majors the following summer, Dodig was drafted by the Cardinals, who won the league championship for four straight years under coaches Charlie Cavanaugh and Tom Wilsey and manager Harold Wilsey.

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“In Little League, we had some dominant teams,” said Dodig. “I had tremendous teammates. My younger brother [Randy] and a player who was my age, Eddie Short. We had a dominant all-star team when I was 12.”

That team won the district and regional final before finally falling to Liverpool 8-7 in the New York State finals. In the course of amassing 50 home runs over the course of his little league career, Dodig cleared the center field fence at Sauer Field four times, earning himself a month of free sundaes at Stewart’s each time. Dodig’s final little league tally was 120 sundaes.

A pitcher and first baseman, Dodig continued playing little league ball when he moved from Grant D. Morse Elementary to Saugerties Junior High, and in the 8th grade he played for the freshman team. But an injury in another sport in which Dodig excelled – skiing – caused him to miss a chance to play JV baseball during his freshman year.

“I ruptured my spleen and lacerated my liver,” Dodig said. “I missed that full summer. I never played JV baseball. I came back that next year as a sophomore and made the varsity team. And I played varsity baseball those three years.”

As a 14-year old, Dodig split a busy summer between playing baseball for both the VFW Babe Ruth and Saugerties American Legion Post 72 teams.

“There were a lot of conflicts,” he said. “As a 15-year-old I elected not to play Babe Ruth, because the better brand of baseball was the American Legion baseball, so I played that exclusively.”

Dodig went 5-0 on the mound as a sophomore for the Sawyers, a team that won the Mid-Hudson Athletic League, Section IX, and Region I/IX championships. He also joined the Saugerties Dutchmen as a junior in high school, playing for the team for five years and compiling a .300-plus batting average each year. With the Dutchmen, Dodig played the infield corners and outfield, and was also a designated hitter.

“Those are some of my best baseball memories,” said Dodig of his time with the American Legion and Dutchmen teams. “It was incredible. Opening days or holidays, or weekend double-headers if we had a rival in town, like one of the Kingston teams, there’d be up to 2,000 people at a game. It was really a lot of fun.”

Dodig also played other sports as a youth, including tennis, football, motocross and basketball. He was also the regional Daisy Air Gun Champion at the age of 12. As a skier, Dodig competed for two seasons with the Hunter Mountain Racing Foundation Junior I Division for 16-18 year olds, making the Empire State Games both years. During the 1981-82 season, Dodig qualified for the New York State Technical Alpine Team in slalom and giant slalom, also making the State Downhill Team, qualifying him for the Eastern States tournament. The following year, he qualified for Junior Nationals, and also earned the right to participate with the U.S. Junior Olympic Team. But he declined the invitation, as it would have overlapped with high school baseball.

 

To Albany, and beyond

After graduating from Saugerties High in 1983, Dodig went to Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida on a full athletic scholarship to play baseball for the school’s NJCAA Division I program. His time in Florida didn’t last long.

“I was young,” Dodig said. “I graduated [from high school] when I was 17, and I really got homesick. After my first semester down there I came home. I couldn’t hack being 1,400 miles from home.”

After taking a semester off, Dodig enrolled in the College of Saint Rose in Albany, playing three fall and two spring baseball seasons over five semesters. But then, Dodig took an opportunity to begin his career immediately, leaving college for good.

“I had already made up my mind at that point that I wanted to be a police officer,” Dodig said. “So I took civil service exams that summer, and I did so well that I was at the top of the list for several departments, and I was offered a job while I was on Christmas break in ’87. I got hired by the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department. I left school and entered the police academy; I was what I wanted to do anyway.”

Dodig became a deputy sheriff in 1988, transferring to the Saugerties Police Department in 1992.

“I didn’t seek it out, but they were looking for a firearms instructor,” said Dodig. “It was a better situation for me financially. Better paying job, the benefits were better and it was closer to home. It basically was a no-brainer. A lateral transfer.”

Dodig, who also did seven years on the Ulster County ERT (SWAT) team and was an FBI-certified weapons specialist instructor, retired from the Saugerties Police Department in January 2013 as a patrolman.

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“I was a street cop my whole career,” he said. “I turned down a detective shield twice. That did not appeal to me at all. The reason I got into police work was I was really into shooting. I had a passion for firearms, and it was a profession where I thought I could foster that and be involved at a professional level. And that’s what I did.”

Recreationally, Dodig has channeled that expertise into hunting, as well as competitive shooting and 3D archery. Professionally, he followed in the family business, running heavy equipment as an operating engineer with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 158 in Albany.

“I’m a legacy operator, third generation,” Dodig said. “My grandfather was an operator, my father not only an operator for more than 40 years, but was also the business agent and president of local 106 in Albany. That was a natural transition for me.”

Dodig, who has been married to his wife Brenda for 26 years, is the proud father of Caty, a 25-year old math teacher at Catskill Middle School and coach of the district’s varsity softball and girls’ soccer teams; and 22-year-old Michael, a freshman football star at Morrisville State College after spending three and a half years in the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system.

Dodig’s parents, Mike and Irene Dodig, are both members of the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame.

“My dad grew up playing baseball, was a very good baseball player,” said Dodig. “He was just extremely competitive, and that was passed on to us. And that’s been passed on to my kids. My kids are the same way.”

Dodig coached both his children in softball and baseball respectively growing up. For his family, baseball is about more than just a game.

“It’s cliché, but it’s never over until it’s over,” he said. “In baseball, as in life, you never give up. There’s no clock in baseball. We played a Babe Ruth all-star game that I coached where we were down to our last strike losing, and we won the game. It’s literally not over until the last out is made. And you can carry that into all facets of life. Never give up. That’s why baseball is the perfect game. There’s no clock. If you’re winning the game, you have to beat your opponent until the last out. To me, there’s nothing better than that.”

Dodig said he was humbled by getting the nod for induction into the Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor,” he said. “You’re voted into the hall of fame by the hall of fame committee, which is comprised of other local sports notables. You can have national accolades for things, but the people singing your praises you don’t know. The people that you know, that makes it special.”

The 2016 Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet will be held on Saturday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Diamond Mills, with a cocktail and welcoming hours beginning one hour earlier. Tickets are $25 and are available through Mark Becker at (518) 641-9520 or halfink@verizon.net.