Versatile Dormanen at home with RedHawks

Derek Dormanen has likely reached the zenith of his professional baseball career. He is a rarely used utility player for a Northern League team in Fargo.

Derek Dormanen has likely reached the zenith of his professional baseball career. He is a rarely used utility player for a Northern League team in Fargo.

Even that great story of perseverance all independent ballplayers can look to for inspiration - former Fargo-Moorhead RedHawk Chris Coste, like Dormanen an ex-Concordia standout who is currently playing for the Philadelphia Phillies - doesn't change Dormanen's realistic outlook about his future.

"That would be nice and I guess anything can happen," Dormanen said with a shrug. "But ..."

How about even moving up one level to an organization's Single-A team?

"That would be tough for a guy like me," he said. "Especially since I don't have one set position."


So it's RedHawks or bust for Dormanen, which might seem like an inglorious pro career. He's a part-time player who does a little bit of everything sufficiently but possesses no single skill that makes him particularly special.

Ho-hum? No way. The RedHawks absolutely love the guy.

"He is the perfect guy for this league," said RedHawks coach Bucky Burgau, who coached Dormanen at Concordia. "He sits on the bench for days without a complaint. He knows his role. He's always ready to go into the game. He takes his ground balls and does his work. He is the perfect fit for a Northern League team because he can do so many things. That's important because our rosters are so small."

Northern League rosters are capped at 22 players, which doesn't leave a lot of room for frivolity. That Dormanen has played eight of the nine positions in the field - that includes pitcher, but not center field - gives the RedHawks flexibility other franchises can't exercise.

Example: Manager Doug Simunic carries only one catcher, Allen Mottram, because Dormanen can catch a game or two in a pinch. Not having to carry a full-time backup catcher allows the RedHawks to have an extra pitcher on the roster.

"When we ask him to help us, he helps us," Simunic said. "He's a valuable guy to have around."

Exhibit A came on June 1 in Fargo-Moorhead's 6-5 victory over Gary at Newman Outdoor Field. Dormanen replaced right fielder Richard Austin, who was conked on the head by a pitch in the first inning. Hitting in Austin's No.3 spot in the lineup and playing for the first time in a week, Dormanen slashed an important two-run double to left field in the fifth inning off RailCats' starter Josh Habel.

More impressive than the hit, in Simunic's mind, was that Dormanen worked out of a full count against Habel and fouled off a couple of pitches to stay alive.


"You could just see the longer the at-bat went, that (Habel) was going to make a boo-boo and Dormanen was going to hit it hard some place," Simunic said.

That was an unthinkable scenario four years ago, when Dormanen first joined the RedHawks. He was as close to an automatic out as you'll find in professional baseball. He batted .209 (9 for 43 with six runs and two RBI in 33 games) that first season in a handful of at-bats.

"I was overmatched," said Dormanen, who hit .270 (20 for 74 with 12 runs, seven RBI and five walks in 44 games) in 2004 and .244 (19 for 78 with 15 runs, five RBI and 15 walks in 49 games) in 2005. Dormanen is batting .250 (9 for 36 with seven runs, four RBI and five walks in 11 games) so far this season as F-M is off to a 16-7 start.

Dormanen's improvement at the plate has been obvious. His batting average has inched up and - just as important - so have the walks. Dormanen had 15 walks last season in 93 plate appearances, more than he had in his first two seasons combined (10) in 127 plate appearances.

"It's been on-the-job training the last few years," Simunic said. "We threw him in there and he's done the job. He's caught on. He's matured as a player, and he's a good person."

There's also this reason for Simunic to like Dorm-anen: The 25-year-old is still classified as a rookie under the league's salary parameters, meaning he makes about $1,000 a month.

Dormanen is not a star, or even a regular, but that might make him the best bargain on the RedHawks' roster.

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