Dakota Conners was in Cooperstown, N.Y. serving as an assistant coach for a local youth baseball team competing in a prestigious tournament when he earned his greatest achievement.
He just didn’t know it.
Even when informed, Conners didn’t know what to make of it.
The Sierra High graduate is one of just nine prep baseball players nationwide to be recognized with the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings Gold Glove Award, which goes to the top defensive players. Conners is placed in elite company. Only two other Gold Glove winners hail from California: Detroit Tigers first-round selection Derek Hill of Elk Grove, and Miami Marlins fifth-round pick Casey Soltis of Granada (Livermore).
“It’s unbelievable. I had no clue that award even existed at the high school level,” said Conners, who starred at shortstop for Sierra in three varsity seasons. “Growing up I was always a smaller player, so I was never that big, explosive hitter in the lineup. I always made up for it with my defense, and it’s something I take great pride in.”
Signed to Cal State East Bay, Conners’ latest accolade captured the attention of several NCAA Division I coaches. He respectfully declined any offers that came his way. Associate head coach Darren Lewis recruited Conners to Cal State East Bay. Lewis himself is a Gold Glove center fielder as a big leaguer for the 1994 San Francisco Giants.
“A couple of weeks after I got the award I received quite a bit of emails from some bigger schools,” Conners said. “They just started picking up interest out of nowhere, but at that point I had already signed. (Cal State East Bay) still would have been my No. 1 pick. The coaches there are great and I am really excited to play for them.”
Sierra put together its best season in more than a decade this past spring, and head coach Jack Thomson said that was due in large part to his outstanding shortstop. While Conners produced plenty on the offensive end (.382 average, 30 RBIs), it was his defense that helped a team lacking star power on the pitcher’s mound win ballgames. He held an impressive .970 fielding percentage, committed just three errors and was named the All-Area Defensive Player of the Year by the Bulletin.
The Timberwolves finished second (12-2) to rival Manteca by a game in the Valley Oak League, while going 22-6 overall and advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff semifinals.
“Dakota had three errors but I’d say only one of them was a bona-fide error,” Thomason said. “One of them was a tough backhand in the six hole and the other was a throw that was a little short to our first baseman. We ruled those errors but some people may have called them hits.
“It’s quite an honor, and for Dakota to get it I’m just so happy for him because he had always kind of flown under the radar,” Thomson added. “With (Jake) Corn and (Lucas) Vaughn at Manteca and (Jordan) Kron over at East Union, he was always overshadowed a little bit in town. But to get this shows that he’s a pretty good baseball player, too.”