The Saugerties High School varsity baseball team has a long history of excellence, but no team has ever bettered the run by the 1985 squad, which won the state championship. Robert Dodig, Jr., who will be enshrined in the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame Club this April, was a key player on that team.
Dodig, SHS Class of 1986, was a junior when the Sawyers won the state title in just the third year of the tournament. Dodig was co-captain of the team, and its catcher. He was All-League
“As crazy as it sounds when you’re 17 years old, but that was probably the highlight of my athletic career,” said Dodig on a phone call from his office in Fort Myers, Florida, where he’s served for the last 13 years as attorney for the large school district of Lee County, which includes 16 different high schools and significantly more middle and elementary schools.
Dodig’s athletic achievements at Saugerties High were numerous. He was co-captain of the JV football team as a sophomore, getting called up late in the season to the varsity squad.
“I played a JV game on a Friday and a varsity game on a Saturday,” recalled Dodig. “I’m not sure if even then under the New York State Public High School Athletic Association rules it was permitted. I’m not trying to get coach [Larry] Nevil in trouble. But when you think about head injuries and everything, it’s just incredible.”
Dodig was All-American, All-League as a football player in his junior and senior seasons. A middle linebacker on defense, in his senior season Dodig shifted from center to offensive tackle. He also played basketball at the JV level as a freshman and sophomore.
But baseball was tops on his list, in part because of the team’s accomplishments during that time. Dodig moved up to the varsity team as a sophomore, when he occasionally caught in place of starter Joe Roberti, but was the team’s regular designated hitter.
“You can’t talk about ’85 without talking about ’84,” said Dodig. “And in 1984, when I was a sophomore, myself and [Donald] D.J. Hines, who got brought up at the end of the season, and we were the only sophomores on the team. D.J., by the way, should get into the Hall of Fame. We had a lot of juniors, including Steven Freer and Mike Melville, who are in the Hall of Fame, and Gregg Jones, who’s going into the Hall of Fame with me.”
The 1984 baseball team rolled through the playoffs, beating Tappan Zee (13-7), Pearl River (2-1), Kingston (9-2) and Shenendehowa (3-0) before falling in the state semifinal to Levittown (4-3) in a game deftly pitched by Hines.
With that experience under the team’s collective belt, the Sawyers went into the 1985 season knowing what it would take to become the state champs. “Coach [Tony] Vizzie and coach Neville, along with us, we kind of knew what that route was all about,” said Dodig. “Saugerties is a baseball town, and we went into 1985 with the arrogance of champions. We just did.”
A rare regular-season loss came at the hands of Wallkill, a game Dodig didn’t play in after an injury in a win against Fallsburg. Dodig blamed himself for that loss and returned the following game. Then the Sawyers kept winning. And winning.
“We just went on an amazing run,” said Dodig.
In the playoffs, Saugerties beat Minisink Valley (9-1), Glens Falls (1-0), Eastchester (9-2) and Fredonia (8-0) in the semifinal.
“There were rumors that two of their players were going to be drafted,” said Dodig. “They had a huge crowd there, and we silenced them.” The Sawyers would then go on to face Miller Place in the state championship, a game that started well into the night.
“The night game before us, the Class D final, went about ten or twelve innings, so we didn’t start our game until ten o’clock at night,” Dodig recalled. “One of the first batters, might have been the leadoff hitter, Steven Freer nailed him right in the helmet. And Steven threw hard, and the kid was down. Next thing you know they had to bring an ambulance out on the field, and the game gets delayed even more.”
In the wee small hours, the Sawyers prevailed 9-3, winning the program’s first and to date only state title.
No welcome for the heroes
Any of the Saugerties faithful who might have been awaiting the team’s arrival had long since gone to bed by the time they rolled back into town.
“It was so late at night when we won, and back in those days we just hopped on the bus and went back to Saugerties,” Dodig said. “You would think we’d go home and be welcomed, but none of that happened. We got to march in the Fourth of July parade, though, and that’s still a big event in Saugerties.”
While the memories of that run are undeniably rooted in the scores on the diamond, Dodig said it’s about much more than that. “A lot of it is those games, but really, you just remember the guys,” he said. “It was a unique set of guys. It makes me emotional just thinking about them.”
Dodig grew up in Saugerties, attending Mt. Marion Elementary before moving on to the big campus of the high school. For those who grew up in the area in the Eighties, the name Dodig evokes Saugerties sports excellence. Some of Robert Dodig’s cousins were also sports stars of the era. “In my family it was always organized sports,” Dodig said. “I played biddy basketball on the International House Nets. We were a dynasty, we rarely lost, if ever. I was MVP my twelve-year-old year.”
Dodig played baseball from Grasshoppers through Babe Ruth, then went on to play for the Saugerties Dutchmen from the summer of his senior year of high school through his time as an undergrad at the College of Saint Rose in Albany. He got his start in organized football at the age of nine on the Gemini, a youth team that was part of an Exchange Club league out of Kingston.
“I played on the Gemini with (fellow Saugerties Sports HOF Class of 2019 inductee) John Gambino, who grew up across the street from me,” said Dodig. “We played sports in the back yard together. It’s quite fitting we’re getting into the Hall of Fame together.”
Dodig continued playing baseball in college as part of Saint Rose’s team. The eye-opening experience, included his realization that he wasn’t good enough to make it in the pros. “So I buckled down, figured I’d get a good education,” he said with a, a decision helped by an injury during his junior season. “And then I decided not to play because I was offered a job in the New York State Assembly as a page. I have what I would call a significant interest in politics.” Dodig went on to law school at Ohio Northern University.
The lessons of team play
Though Dodig’s primary sports experience from that point on was recreational softball, sports had made a serious impression on him. “I’m fond of saying, and probably will talk about this in my speech, the aspect of team sports comes into play all the time professionally in my job,” he said. “Without those lessons, I think it would make my professional life more difficult.”
Dodig is still connected to local sports as well. His nephew, Ty Gallagher, is in his junior year at Saugerties High, playing first base on the varsity baseball team. His other nephew Owen, a seventh grader, is also an athlete.
“They bring back memories for me when I talk to them,” Dodig said.
Dodig and his wife Bridget, a schoolteacher, will celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary in June. They have a 13-year-old daughter, Michaela, who though not active in sports herself enjoys following athletics with her parents.
“My family life at this point is pretty much work and being a spectator for sports,” explained Dodig. “My daughter is not an athlete. We’re huge sports fans.” The Dodigs root for Notre Dame, the Cincinnati Reds, and the New York Giants, Rangers and Knicks. They’re also NASCAR enthusiasts and are planning a trip to the Daytona 500 this Sunday, February 17.
Dodig was unsure of what advice he might have for young Saugerties athletes, because as a father and school district attorney he knows they’re growing up in a sometimes markedly different world than he did.
“Social media and unfortunately the erosion of the media as I knew it growing up, that has changed the world,” he said. “Students today, have to me, so much more to worry about. I can remember on that run in 1985 what I was most worried about was wondering what time we were going to get out of school early to go play a game. I hate saying things were simpler, because that implies they were better. They weren’t necessarily better, because they were less diverse, they were less progressive. I think the world has come a long way. But we [as athletes] didn’t have our own page on websites like MaxPreps.”
Too great a focus on individual achievement in sports is something Dodig said he’d like to see kids avoid. The concept of being part of a team is crucial not only in athletics but in the world as a whole, he said. “When it comes to team sports, I would encourage any young man or woman to try to participate in football,” Dodig said. “As much as I was successful in baseball and went on to play it in college, there’s no sport to teach people about each other and teamwork and leadership like football.”
Dodig joins George Beisel, John Gambino, Gregg Jones and John Parker in the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame Club’s 2019 class. The induction banquet is scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 13 at Diamond Mills in Saugerties. Tickets are $30 and can be secured by contacting Mike Hasenbalg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-388-2348.