On the diamond, Dakota Conners hasn’t made many errors in judgment or position.
The numbers, tape and tales prove him to be as sound as any that have pulled on a Sierra High jersey.
But just how slick and sure-handed is the shortstop, who boasts a near-perfect fielding percentage in 18 games this season?
He has a ringing endorsement from Darren Lewis, a Gold Glove center fielder with the San Francisco Giants in 1994.
Now an assistant coach and recruiter with Cal State East Bay, Lewis was surprised to find that schools hadn’t done more to court Conners.
Their loss will be the Pioneers’ gain.
Surrounded by family and school officials, Conners signed a national letter of intent on Thursday evening to play baseball at Cal State East Bay.
“I’ve been working up to this point for the last four years and even beyond that. I never thought this day would come,” he said. “Every kid’s dream is to play at the Division I level and be on TV, but this opportunity was too great.”
Conners chose East Bay – a blooming Division II program – over Utah, San Jose State, Nevada, Sacramento State and the lure of Southern California programs.
The others offered genuine interest, some money and a beach-front lifestyle, as was the case with Santa Barbara, but the package put together by Pioneers skipper Bob Ralston and Lewis was just too sweet.
Conners will receive partial athletic and academic scholarships that will cover nearly all of his expenses, his mother Michelle said.
What’s more, Conners, who has been accepted into the school’s kinesiology department, will be given a chance to compete for the starting shortstop job as a freshman.
He won’t have to sit.
He won’t have to wait.
His glove is that good.
“There have been times we’ve looked at the difference in a game and the difference has been him,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said. “He’s as good as anybody I’ve had at the high school level, defensively.”
Conners has committed just 18 errors in three seasons at Sierra and just one in 61 chances this spring. He has a fielding percentage of .983.
“I had a couple of other opportunities, but I’d have to say that was the biggest impact, having Darren recruit and want me in his program,” Conners said. “He’s been telling me that I have a chance to play early and be their guy. Coming from a Gold Glover, that’s amazing to hear.”
Conners is a third-year varsity player. He’s hitting .317 (69 for 217) with 16 doubles and 58 runs scored in 70 career games.
His numbers this spring reflect a readiness for the next level. Conners has enjoyed a surge in nearly every category. He’s hitting .383 with 23 hits, 23 RBI, 20 runs and nine doubles for the Timberwolves.
Conners credits the coaching staff at Sierra for preparing him for this moment, particularly coach Greg Wilson. Conners has been a regular at Wilson’s Manteca Baseball and Softball Academy.
“I just want to go out with a bang,” he said. “Playing under coach Thomson, coach Wilson, coach (Marshall) Swift and coach (Todd) Vick ... to be able to play in this program for three years has been an honor.”
Conners is set to join a program on the rise under Ralston, now in his third season as coach.
Cal State East Bay is currently 23-17 and 17-15 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association heading into a four-game series with Cal State Los Angeles beginning today.
The Pioneers went 32-18 in 2013, tying the program mark for victories in a season. Cal State East Bay also placed fifth in the CCAA, its highest finish since joining the conference in 2009.
“They’re becoming a factor in that conference, which is a very good Division II conference,” Conners said. “I went and watched a couple of games. Just the way they play, they’re all in it, very coachable and a bunch of grinders.
“That’s how I see myself. I’m a grinder; a small guy who’s going to work hard every day.”