Last season, the Oregon State Beavers were one out away from being eliminated in Game 2 of the College World Series. With a 1-1 count, Cadyn Grenier popped a ball into foul territory that could have ended the Beavers’ run. That ball never found leather and dropped between three defenders. A day later, the Beavers brought the national championship to Corvallis for the first time since 2007.
On the other side of this script was the Arkansas Razorbacks. The SEC powerhouse found their way to the College World Series final with an incredible offensive surge that was fueled by their All-Tournament center fielder, Dominic Fletcher. Fletcher, who is a draft eligible junior this season, is one of a handful of Razorback starters who had a great view of that dreadful fielding error. Despite the tough loss, Fletcher thinks that the dropped fly ball could spark a fire for the upcoming season.
“When the play happened, you don’t really know that’s going to be the play that decides the whole thing. It was the last out if we would have caught it, but the games still going on, so it falls and you’re like ‘Okay, next pitch.’ The guy gets a hit, then the next guy hits a homer, and then you’re kind of thinking about it like ‘Man, what if that ball would have been caught?’” Fletcher said. “I was just trying to stay positive and go to the next pitch, but when’s all over, you’re looking back at it and it was just one more play. I think that honestly will help motivate us this year and help us get back there.”
Now, one of the oldest players on the team, Fletcher has to step into a leadership role. With extensive postseason experience under his belt, he wants to help lead the Razorbacks once again to the promised land of college baseball, Omaha, Nebraska.
“I’m just working on being more of a leader since we lost a ton of older guys that really helped us get there through their experience. Now that I’m the older guy, I kind of got to step into that role and help out the younger guys,” Fletcher said. “I think now that me and a couple of other veteran players know what it takes, we just got to get the rest of the team prepared. We have a lot of new guys that are going to come in and fill holes. We know what it takes and we can help those guys learn what it takes to help us get back there.”
The Razorbacks have been a powerhouse in college baseball since the 1970’s and have only missed out on the postseason three times in the 21st century. Since Fletcher has been part of the organization, he knows what one of the main factors is that makes them a premier program throughout the country: great coaching.
“It’s huge. Coach [Dave] Van Horn has been here forever and he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. Everything he knows about the game and all of the little things, just playing hard and helping out your teammates and stuff like that, just really helps the team come together,” Fletcher said. “Obviously, coach [Nate] Thompson came in here last year and had a really good approach to our offense, helping everyone get better at what their particular skill is. He really came in and helped our offense develop and put up those great numbers last year. Coach [Wes] Johnson as well, getting our pitching staff right and all the stuff he does over there. They’re a huge part of why we were in the World Series last year.”
Early in the 2018 season, Fletcher did not not look like the Freshman All-American that he was in 2017. In non-conference play, Fletcher hit .190 with two home runs. However once SEC play began, Fletcher found himself another gear. He slashed .325 with five home runs, 15 RBIs, a .533 slugging percentage and a .879 OPS. Fletcher still has goals set for himself going despite his second half breakout and his team-first mentality.
“I really want to hit for a better average. I started off really slow last year. The first half of the season I was hitting in the .100s…I had to really do well to get it back to [.288]. Just being consistent throughout the year and hitting for a better average [is my goal],” Fletcher said.
Rather than return to the California Collegiate League where he was named the 2017 MVP for summer ball, Fletcher was one of 35 players from around the country selected to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. Despite the shorter season, Fletcher made the most of the opportunity and embraced donning the red, white and blue uniform.
“Honestly, [Team USA was] a great group of guys. I got to play with some of the best players in the country and it was just a great experience meeting all those guys. It was a lot shorter than playing in a regular collegiate league. I just had to make the most of it. I was excited to be there and represent my country,” Fletcher said.
Not only did Fletcher get to represent the United States this summer, but he also got to see his brother, David, make his debut for the Los Angeles Angels on June 13th. The older Fletcher brother went 3-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs in his first game as a big leaguer with Dominic watching closely while preparing for the CWS.
“It was crazy. The first game, I turned on the TV and he has three hits and I’m just watching and thinking ‘Wow, this is real.’ The stuff me and him have been dreaming about and training for our whole lives was finally coming true for him. I was really excited to see him up there and succeeding up there,” Fletcher said.
With David looking like the everyday guy for the Angels at second base, Dominic is still waiting to see what cap he’ll wear come June. A big league pedigree is nothing but a positive for the younger Fletcher and he now has a great source for knowing what pro life is like with David helping him to prepare to make the jump with some words of wisdom.
“Just stay humble. He’s an incredibly humble guy. You’ll never hear him talk about himself. [His advice was] stay humble and stay consistent with your approach. Do what you do best, so just go out there and play hard,” said Fletcher.
Very wise words from one of the MLB’s young phenoms. Dominic hopes to practice what his brother preaches while leading his Razorback team to another CWS final in 2019.