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Dickson Hopes to Put Trip Through Minors Behind Him : Baseball: Cub prospect knows he needs to work harder to stick in Wrigley Field.

February 18, 1991|BOB WOLF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Dickson reached the major leagues, the breaking pitches seemed to desert him.

Zimmer said, "I heard a lot about his great curveball, but I didn't see it here."

Scott Nelson, the Cubs' assistant director of scouting, said the same thing. However, he defended the unusually quick call-up of Dickson.

"The situation dictated that we give him a crack," Nelson said. 'We were in such desperate need and he had been pitching so great. The old rule of thumb in baseball is if a pitcher has a hot hand, it's almost like he can pitch anywhere. So we figured, 'Lets get him up here while he's on a roll.' "

Dickson's lack of success with his curveball in the majors led some observers to speculate that he profited in the minors from the fact that the baseballs used there have higher seams. These people theorize that the higher the seams, the more the ball will break.

"I don't take offense to that," Dickson said. 'I had never heard of anything like that before, and I kind of got a laugh out of it. I didn't think much about it when I heard it, but I don't think it could make much difference.

"I want to go to spring training and hopefully throw breaking balls that put an end to that theory."

A more popular clue to Dickson's problems with the Cubs is that he had a tired arm after pitching a personal-high 209 innings during the year.

"My arm did feel a little dead," he said. "I had never pitched continuously so long. But I've got to get used to that, because that's the way it's going to be from now on."

Understandably, Dickson's whirlwind trip up the minor league ladder mitigated against establishing any lasting friendships.

"It was so different from when I was at Arizona," he said. "Everybody knew me there. Now I was a new guy wherever I went, and I didn't get to know anybody very well. But it was fun, and I think I adjusted pretty well.

"I literally lived out of a suitcase. No, actually, I didn't. I lived out of a duffel bag. I didn't buy a suitcase until the season was over."

When Dickson joined the Cubs, veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe took the rookie under his wing.

"Sutcliffe was very friendly," Dickson said. "He was extra helpful to me. I even stayed at his house for three nights. He told me things that made life easier for me.

"Everybody was nice to me, and another player who was very helpful was (catcher) Damon Berryhill. He was at Peoria on rehab, and it was great having a major league catcher to work with."

Both Sutcliffe and Berryhill are trying to come back from shoulder surgeries that all but wiped out their 1990 seasons. Ironically, Sutcliffe figures to be the man Dickson will have to beat to win a starting job.

"The fifth spot is open," Dickson said. "Reviews are mixed on Sutcliffe's chances, but I expect him to make it. In my case, I just have to work hard and see what happens."

Personal ambitions aside, Dickson feels that the Cubs' free-agent signings of outfielder George Bell, starter Danny Jackson and reliever Dave Smith (a Poway High School alumnus and Olivenhain resident) have made them strong contenders in the National League East.

"I'm really excited," Dickson said. "I think with these new guys, we've got a chance to do a lot of things. I hope I'm a part of it."

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