According to Claremore baseball coach Jim Sherl, Cooper Dotson is about as good an outfielder as one can find in high school.
However, the senior admittedly has always had offensive issues.
Those flaws came to the forefront during the Zebras’ trip to Gulf Shores, Ala., for the Gulf Coast Classic from March 18-20.
Coming off a 2-hit, 2-run performance with an RBI in a 14-1 drubbing of Glenpool on March 11, Dotson was feeling confident. After all, in the three games prior to that, he managed only two hits in 10 at-bats.
That confidence wasn’t misplaced. At least not at first.
The senior seemingly picked up where he left off when Claremore took on Brentwood (Tenn.) on the first day of the tournament, tallying two hits once again.
His line-drive single to leftfield in the bottom of the seventh inning would be the last positive contact he’d make for quite some time, though.
Later that day against Decatur (Ala.), something changed.
No matter what he did, Dotson couldn’t get the ball into play. As a result, he finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
The situation worsened the following day against Har Ber (Ark.). Each of his three trips to the plate resulted in strikeouts.
The Zebras were up against some elite pitchers who routinely eclipsed 90 mph, but to Dotson, it wasn’t about the pitching quality. It was his bat.
“It was my bat, for sure,” Dotson said. “I was in a huge slump, and my bat just wasn’t working.”
It was almost as if it had become cursed.
And with no antidote to think of, Dotson believed he was doomed to continue the trend.
Sherl and the coaching staff tried their best to convince Dotson that his struggles were only temporary, but to no avail. He wasn’t feeling it.
“He thinks his bat’s messing him up,” Sherl said. “His bat’s doing him bad. He gets kind of down in the dumps, and he’s like, ‘Man, just put me out in the field and let me play defense. I don’t want to hit because I’m costing our team games. I’m coming up in RBI situations, and I’m not getting it done.’”
That’s when fellow senior Tristin Hampton had an idea.
Hampton recalled a similar situation unfolding during the team’s trip to the Best of the West tournament in Arizona, but the team broke its collective slump in a different manner.
It was more of an individual project than anything, but this time around, Hampton wanted to do something in which the entire team could participate.
Thus the bat sacrifice ceremony idea was born.
“For us seniors, it’s something we can look back on,” Hampton said. “It’s more of a team-bonding thing, and it was something we believed in. It worked, so we’re all on the train now.”
Of course, the team couldn’t simply waltz out of the hotel at 10 p.m. for a rendezvous on the beach without supervision.
It took some convincing, but Sherl ultimately cracked and sent assistant coach TJ Wood with the squad.
“(Hampton) had some kind of plan in mind that would break the slump of the bat,” Sherl said. “I just didn’t feel real comfortable about sending a bunch of high school boys down to the beach by themselves to bury a bat, but coach Wood was standing there in the hall, so I told him he might want to take those guys down to the beach and break this slump.”
With phone flashlights in hand, the Zebras made the short walk to the Gulf of Mexico coast and planted the bat vertically in the middle of a group of seashells arranged in a triangular ritualistic design.
Dotson and Wood then joined hands in a slump-busting prayer as the other players formed a circle around the pair.
“We are gathered here today, dearly beloved, to bring you the sacrifice of Cooper’s bat. We thank you, Lord, for this bat, and the six previous strikeouts that you have blessed him with.
“It is cursed upon by Jobu himself, but after this night, we shall no longer see Jobu. We shall see a healthy 33-inch, 30-oz. newborn DeMarini.
“And in this sacrifice, we thank you.
With the curse finally vanquished, Woods looked to Dotson and delivered a cinematic prompt.
“You may now take your new sword.”
Dotson slowly lifted his “new” bat and quietly admired it before holding the prized possession in the air, letting out a victorious roar echoed by his teammates.
They broke the slump.
In that moment, Dotson could think of nothing more satisfying.
“It was the greatest feeling in my life, honestly,” Dotson said.
Wood, though seemingly acting on experience, said he had never taken part in something of that nature.
“I just completely winged it,” Wood said. “It’s a good thing for the team to be around each other and have a little something to get together and have some fun. I had no previous experience whatsoever, though. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing.
“Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to be successful, and it just happened to be a bat we could get Cooper going for us.”
It was a moving experience for Sherl as well.
With decades of baseball experience under his belt, both playing and coaching, Sherl said he knows sometimes the ordinary tactics can’t get the job done.
He simply wanted one of his senior leaders to rediscover his identity at the plate, no matter how unorthodox the means.
“You gotta do something, and baseball is so superstitious. Sometimes coach Wood on the beach telling you your bat isn’t cursed anymore does the trick,” Sherl said.
Dotson is now seeing better days at the plate.
In his first at-bat after the ceremony, he hit a fly ball to centerfield, and despite three outfielders being in position to tally the out, the ball somehow found its way to the grass.
Although it was recorded as an error on the stat sheet, Dotson’s play drove in a run, and he went on to score shortly after as well.
Since the reawakening of his bat, Dotson has struck out only six times in 30 at-bats while notching 11 hits, 7 RBIs and seven runs scored along with two walks (as of April 9).
Against Memorial in Claremore’s first district series after returning to Oklahoma, he went 6-for-8 at the plate with 3 RBIs and two runs scored.
In fact, Dotson wouldn’t experience the dreaded “strike three” again until the Zebras’ contest with NOAH in the Zebra/Tiger Classic on March 28. That’s three games and 13 at-bats between strikeouts.
Dotson said the biggest reason for his improvement had nothing to with a change of strategy or technique.
All he needed was some confidence, and he got just that.
All it took was a 50-second séance.
“It was definitely superstition,” Dotson said. “It gave me a lot of confidence after the ceremony.”