Adversity, obstacles no match for mighty Dyson
Speedy outfielder overcame childhood hardship, on-field setbacks with determination
KANSAS CITY -- Jarrod Dyson spent his early years in the projects of McComb, Miss.
"We called it 'The Bricks' because it was tough, man. It was like almost a trap," Dyson said. "You've got to be strong-minded to come out of a place like that, with drugs involved and a lot of bad stuff going on around the neighborhood."
When Dyson was about 8 years old, his mother Cecelia moved him, his three older brothers and his younger sister out of The Bricks.
"As a single parent, my mom did a great job of getting us out of there, into a home on a better side of the town," he said. "Since then, we've been all right."
Jarrod, now 29, is still doing all right as a speed-blessed outfielder for the Royals. Overcoming The Bricks was just one hurdle. There was also the stigma of being selected in the 50th and last round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, a round so low they don't even bother with it anymore. Kansas City picked Dyson out of Southwest Mississippi Community College.
"[The Royals] believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. They saw something in me when I didn't see it in myself," he said. "I just thank them for everything they did for me."
Dyson has come a long way.
"From the dark to the spotlight, basically," he said.
Dyson's mother kept him on the path toward athletics, while his older brothers veered away from sports. It wasn't always easy. He veered away himself in his early teens.
"You look back on my lifestyle, and you ask yourself how I made it. I ask myself plenty of days: How'd I end up here? I was wild, man," he said. "Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes, seriously, to realize how far I came in the game and how I grew as a person. I learned a lot from my teammates, just how they go about their lives, and they made me want to be better in my life. I'm not saying I'm a perfect person, but that's what you work toward -- perfection."
There's another person who helped steer the young Dyson's life, Jerry Hill, a military man who was a fine athlete himself.
"That's who I consider as my father," Dyson said. "He took me under his wing like I was his son, and I respect him big-time for it, and I look up to him like a dad. I don't call him 'Jerry Hill,' I call him 'Dad.' ... He's the one who took time out of his life to teach me the game of baseball."
Dyson learned well, playing at McComb High School and Southwest Community. His most obvious attribute was blazing speed. Dyson has spent his nine years in pro baseball learning how to fuse that great talent with other baseball skills.
It's taken time. Dyson's yet to become an everyday player. He's been a fill-in for center fielder Lorenzo Cain, he's been a pinch-runner for designated hitter Billy Butler. Dyson has been a cheerleader on the bench and a bundle of joy and laughs in the clubhouse.
"I feel like I'm developing into the player I want to be," he said.
Dyson is the originator of one of the Royals' most-repeated quotations of recent years. During an interview, he was answering a question about the devastating effect his swiftness had on an opponent.
"That's what speed do," Dyson said.
Unforgettable. Sort of like Dyson himself. He makes a lasting impression.
"He's smart and fearless, which is a real good combination. I mean, he's just not out there blindly running," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "He can steal a base when everybody in the ballpark knows he's trying to steal."
Dyson can steal bases, he can take an extra base on a hit, he can cover center field -- and part of left and right while he's at it. It's refining all the other things that will determine where the rest of his career will go.
Yost believes that speed players develop later because they have a special skill set they have to develop. Dyson concurs.
"There's just so much that goes into a speed guy's game -- working the count, keeping the ball out of the air, trying to get to first base, getting the bunt down, getting the sac bunts down, moving the runners, stuff like that," Dyson said. "That's a lot to work on, rather than a power hitter just going up there looking for one pitch in one location, trying to drive the ball out of the ballpark. You've got to put a lot of work into it."
Dyson does, working with coach first-base Rusty Kuntz on bunting, running and outfielding and with hitting coach Pedro Grifol. He studies the techniques of other speed guys like Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. Dyson listens to teammates such as Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon.
"I have Gordo shoot me a tip on how to go about it," Dyson said. "It's just a lot of fun being out there with Gordo."
It's all paying off.
"[Dyson is] a much better player. He's really starting to understand what his abilities are and how to take advantage of his speed," Yost said. "He's understanding that he doesn't have to be perfect with his bunts. He's understanding that people pay to come in here and see him get on base and run, not fly out. He's averaging right at five pitches an at-bat, he's taking pitches, he's working walks, he's putting his bunts down, he's staying up the middle really well. He's definitely made a lot of improvements from last year."
Not enough, however, to be a lineup regular.
So far, Dyson has seen action in 22 of the Royals' 37 games, batting .286 (14-for-49) with a triple and five stolen bases. He has four bunt hits and seven infield singles.
"I actually do feel like someday I'm going to be an everyday guy, at the top of somebody's lineup, whether it's here or somewhere else," Dyson said. "I'd love to be here the rest of my career, because the Royals gave me an opportunity."
Dyson's best shot came a year ago when right fielder Jeff Francoeur was slumping. Yost put Dyson in center, shifting Cain to right. Dyson had moved into the leadoff spot in the batting order. Things were good.
Then on May 15, 2013, at Anaheim, Trout pounded a home run to center field. Dyson decided to climb the fence and try to catch it. He had no chance, and coming down, he sprained his right ankle. Dyson went on the disabled list and was out for more than a month.
"I learned not to track down balls that you can't catch," Dyson said afterward.
With David Lough moving up and Justin Maxwell arriving later to take Francoeur's place in right, Dyson was left playing behind Cain. Twenty of Dyson's 61 starts in center came while Cain was on the disabled list.
Dyson, though, is a survivor. Through life, he's learned to overcome adversity and to persevere. Dyson's mother kept him on the right track.
"Every day there were life decisions, basically, and if she didn't stay on me the way she did, I wouldn't be here today," he said.
Dyson might be small -- he's listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds -- but he's mighty.
"Don't let the size fool you, that's all I can tell you," he said. "I don't mind stepping in front of a challenge. I love a challenge. It brings out the best in me."