It might have taken a little longer than expected, but Dee Gordon has arrived.
Once a top prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers—son of longtime big league pitcher Tom and brother of 2014 first-round draft pick, Nick—Dee Gordon struggled with consistency, both in performance and in playing time over his first three big league seasons. This year, though, the speedy Gordon has gone from almost-afterthought to breakout player the only way he knows how—fast.
Despite entering spring training without a guarantee he would make the 25-man roster, the 26-year-old has earned his spot as the Dodgers' starting second baseman and leadoff man and is hitting .285 with a team-high 37 runs and 36 stolen bases. By the way, that last number leads the majors by 11 over Cincinnati Reds rookie Billy Hamilton.
The day after he had one of his best games of 2014, leading the Dodgers to a 6-1 win over the Colorado Rockies by going 4-for-4 with two runs scored and a triple—that more or less turned into an inside-the-park home run after an error—Bleacher Report caught up with Gordon for a Q&A.
Not literally, of course.
Q: Your first few seasons in the majors weren't always easy, and your standing with the Dodgers coming into 2014 was up in the air. Yet here you are in mid-June playing every day at second base, leading off and literally running away from the pack in stolen bases. What do you attribute your success to?
Gordon: Hard work. Just working as hard as I can and believing in myself to prove that I can be a major leaguer and help the Dodgers win, even if I don't cost that much toward their $200 million payroll.
Q: You're listed at 5'11" and 170 pounds, and you've always had a slender build. There were reports during spring training that you had focused on adding weight and muscle to your frame over the winter. Can you talk about that?
Gordon: In the offseason, I knew I needed to get bigger. To be honest with you, it sucked trying to do it, because it was a long process. I ate. A lot. It wasn't what not to eat—it was how much. I got to eat everything. I ate healthy food, I ate junk food, I ate everything in between. At first, I almost couldn't take it—I wanted to quit. But I recognized that it was about finding a way to play so I could help the Dodgers.
Q: Given that you're leading the league in steals by such a wide margin, is it a personal goal of yours now that you're playing every day to stay atop that category for the rest of the season?
Gordon: Man, I just wanna score a whole bunch of runs. That's my goal. If I have to steal bases to do it, that's what I'm gonna do. If I win the stolen base title, that'd be awesome—and I wanna win it for years to come—but if I don't and I still help the team win, get to the playoffs and win the World Series, that's all the gratification I need.
Q: Stealing and sliding into bases isn't exactly the safest aspect of baseball these days. We've seen players like Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals, Josh Hamilton of the Angels and Mike Napoli of the Red Sox injure themselves while diving headfirst, and so did your teammate Yasiel Puig earlier in the year. How do you protect yourself when you're running and sliding all over the place?
Gordon: I wear a bunch of McDavid pads for protection. Sliding and diving and playing so hard all the time can be a grind on your legs. So I use McDavid pad products to help keep me on the field so I can play every day. When I lost my spot with the Dodgers in 2012, it was because I broke my thumb stealing third, so I'm definitely aware of the risks.
Q: When did you first realize just how fast you are?
Gordon: It's funny, because growing up I played football, and I was always faster than everybody else. I played running back, so I would run sweep left or sweep right and then just outrun everybody. But then I switched to basketball and didn't have to use my speed quite as much. I didn't really know how fast I was in baseball until I got into it as I got older.
Q: Speaking of speed, when you scored on your triple-with-an-error Monday night, you rounded the bases in 13.98 seconds. That's the fastest time in the majors since at least 2010, according to Tater Trot Tracker, but it's still behind Billy Hamilton's 13.8-second dash around the diamond when he hit an inside-the-park home run at Double-A a couple years ago. Any thoughts?
Gordon: I actually almost fell rounding third base on that (laughs). No, seriously, if you watch the video, I tried to stretch too far reaching for third.
Q: With the season you're having to this point, you're at least in the discussion to earn an All-Star nod for the first time in your career. The latest voting results show you're in third place behind Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies and Neil Walker of the Pittsburgh Pirates. What would making it to Minnesota in July mean to you?
Gordon: That would mean a lot, man. It would mean all my hard work has paid off and make some of the struggles I went through my first few years worth it in the end. But even to be mentioned in the running is awesome.
Gordon: I don't think Nick has any flaws in his game. Especially for a player coming out of high school, he's pretty polished. He's going to be a great major league player one day because he can hit for power, hit for average and he's going to steal bases. Plus, he'll be a leader on the field every day as the shortstop. For now, though, I told him to get used to some long bus rides, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watermelon while he's in the minors.
Q: Your father was a big league pitcher for 21 seasons, and he had the nickname "Flash" because of the last name Gordon. It seems that nickname might suit you better, though, because of how fast you are, right?
Gordon: Well, back in high school, my dad ran a 4.3 40-yard dash, so he was pretty quick, too. I've kinda taken on his nickname, but I did it more as a way to show that I appreciate how he brought us up and that I was gonna continue the legacy.
Q: Did you have to ask your dad first if you could borrow his nickname?
Gordon: Nah, I just told him, "Dad, I'm stealing your nickname." (Laughs)
Q: The big topic around baseball right now is the passing of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and how everybody in the sport is mourning the loss of such a great player and great man. You played with his son, Tony Gwynn Jr., on the Dodgers in 2011 and 2012, and your father's career overlapped with Gwynn's from the 1980s through the 2000s. Did you get a chance to meet him ever?
Gordon: Honestly, the news hit me hard, because Tony (Jr.) is one of my best friends in this world. We first met in 2010 right after he signed with the Dodgers (that December), and we just became cool real quick. We're like brothers, and you never wanna see your brother down. He's always been there for me, like a big brother. I talked to Tony (Monday), and I told him that I'm gonna keep him in my prayers and that I love him and hope he gets past it.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Gwynn at his house, sharing a meal with him and his family, talking about the game, talking about life. Watching him swing the bat and get all those hits when I was growing up, and then knowing how much he loved to coach and help people—that's what's gonna stick with me.
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