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Sabre Dogs shortstop Mason Dinesen develops with positive attitude and gratitude

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Souris Valley shortstop Mason Dinesen throws a ball before a game earlier this season at Corbett Field. Dinesen is playing in his third season with the Sabre Dogs.

While growing up in South Florida, Mason Dinesen kept a keen eye on professional baseball players. Not all aspiring big leaguers have the chance to watch spring training games played just 20 minutes away from their homes.

During his elementary years, the Naples native took advantage of his circumstances — a mindset he carried throughout the rest of his baseball career. Some of the world’s brightest stars trained in his backyard, and Dinesen did not want to let that opportunity go to waste.

“I used to skip school when I was younger and watch them practice,” he said. “It’s kind of where my love for the game started.”

The hours spent watching MLB stalwarts such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau left an indelible impact on the young infielder. These days, Dinesen plays shortstop for the Expedition League’s Souris Valley Sabre Dogs.

When Dinesen thinks about the game he loves, he is reminded of something simple yet complex.

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Mason Dinesen holds a bat during a game earlier this season. Dinesen hit for a .364 average at Keiser University in the 2020 season.

“My life,” he said. “It’s kind of like my getaway and my everyday life. When I’m going through something off the field, it’s easy to get away playing baseball. That’s one of the reasons I love playing.”

Within the baseball lexicon, the shortstop is recognized as the captain of the infield. While Sabre Dogs head coach Corey Thompson watches Dinesen take control, he often shares a laugh with assistant coach Brock Baughcum.

“Me and Brock always joke that he’s drawing equations at shortstop in a big situation,” Thompson said. “You can see him doing his fingers. It makes our job easier because he does know what he’s doing. That allows us to think about other things — pitching matchups and that sort of thing. He’ll take care of the infield. It’s almost like having a quarterback out there running your plays. He’ll tell outfielders what to do, too.”

A self-described “late bloomer,” Dinesen began his college career at Ave Maria University. After spending his first season at the NAIA level, he transferred to the University of West Florida.

Dinesen played 39 games in his sophomore campaign. He finished the year with NCAA Division II experience and a strong .961 fielding percentage, but the infielder itched to explore new turf.

Once again, Dinesen explored other options. With aspirations of professional baseball at the forefront of his mind, he hit the transfer market.

He stayed within the Sunshine State and shifted his focus to Keiser University in West Palm Beach. Because Dinesen was already acquainted with NAIA baseball, he gained a clearer understanding of his competition.

“In the NAIA, everyone has a story,” he said. “You want to talk about stories? NAIA is the birthplace of crazy, crazy stories. It’s just people finding a place to play, in a sense.”

Keiser became a hand-in-glove fit for the shortstop. Before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the 2020 spring season, Dinesen recorded eye-popping numbers.

Under the tutelage of former MLB catcher Brook Fordyce, Dinesen batted .364 (39-for-107) and slugged four home runs. He added two triples, four home runs and 34 RBIs.

Indeed, Keiser helped Dinesen develop into the erudite shortstop he is today.

“The whole staff over there is amazing,” Dinesen said. “It was a great fit. That’s what I view as the most important thing about college baseball — finding a place where you can fit in and get the most out of your ability.”

Although his most recent college season came to a screeching halt, the pandemic provided Dinesen with an unexpected sense of clarity.

“You’re finally getting some acknowledgement,” he said. “Maybe you can possibly play at the next level. Just to have it all shut off, it was a shock. I’m not the only one going through it. I’m not necessarily special, so why should I sit here and cry about it?”

Once again, he seized a chance to improve. He applied his next-play mentality during the lockdown period and joined forces with private hitting instructor Justin Black.

Dinesen counts Black, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves, as his trainer, mentor and life coach. The baseball junkies developed a tight bond over several years of work, so Dinesen understood the task at hand.

While players across the country yearned for closure, Dinesen strangled his opportunity by the throat. Day by day, swing by swing, he molded himself into a sharper hitter through countless live at-bats.

“He cares about the right things,” Black said. “He doesn’t care about the stuff that doesn’t matter.”

Black’s sentiments rang true in a July 18 contest against the Badlands Big Sticks at Corbett Field. In the bottom of the tenth inning, Dinesen ripped a walk-off single and sealed Souris Valley’s 4-3 victory over the Lewis Division foe.

“He loves those moments,” Black said. “He loves being the dude. That’s another hard trait to teach, wanting to be that guy. He wants to be that guy. He loves it.”

Dinesen’s mentality has impressed fellow returner Bo McClintock. Armed with another year of experience, Dinesen has slowed the game down for himself.

“Mason does a good job of constantly trying to make adjustments,” McClintock said. “A lot of guys won’t do that. They’ll keep riding out the same thing. He’s trying to find something to make him better, whatever it is.”

Because McClintock and Dinesen live with the same host family, the infielders have developed some brotherly love. If McClintock wants to rest for even a moment, Dinesen will not let him have that chance.

“He’s always bugging me,” McClintock said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, leave me alone. I want to hang out and watch TV by myself.’ He’s like, ‘Come on, man. Let’s go to the gym.'”

That competitive fire has blazed throughout the past three summers. In no uncertain terms, Thompson views Dinesen as a winner.

“In a race to tie your shoes the fastest, he’ll still try to beat you,” Thompson said.

The feelings between player and coach are mutual. When Dinesen speaks about his head coach, his words ring with conviction.

“I’ll go out there every night for that guy,” Dinesen said. “I don’t care if I’m feeling bad or not. He knows that. It’s been awesome these last three years. I can’t repay that guy. His recommendations and the way he thinks of me and speaks of me as a player is just out of this world. I love the guy, honestly.”

Off the field, Dinesen searches for balance. Music from Lil Wayne and Lil Uzi Vert helps him bring energy to the room, but Dinesen is truly at peace while driving golf balls along the fairways.

While he attempts to achieve equilibrium, one notion remains constant. In his own words, Dinesen “bet on himself.”

By his own admission, the sport he adores most has eaten him up plenty of times. Although baseball is a game of failures, Dinesen maintains his voracious appetite for success.

“I’m so thankful,” he said. “I could come out here and go 0-for-4. Am I happy I went 0-for-4? No. Am I happy to be out here playing? Hell, yeah. Absolutely.”

Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.

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