FULTON • New Hope. If it wasn’t New Hope, it was Amory.
Brian Dozier, a standout baseball player at Itawamba AHS, remembers those “knock-down drag-outs” and how they helped shape him as an athlete and a person.
The three schools were big rivals and always seemed to be in the hunt for division championships and the critical playoff seeding that would go along with that.
“I remember a certain game with New Hope,” Dozier said. “New Hope and Amory were our rivals. We had some knock-down drag-outs with them trying to win the division. It seemed like it was always kind of us three that were the better teams in our division. A couple of walk-off wins against New Hope, and then playing at New Hope with that crowd. That always stands out.”
Dozier graduated from IAHS in the spring of 2005. He returns this week to be honored as the school’s alumnus of the year.
Between then and now, Dozier starred at Southern Miss — helping the Golden Eagles to Omaha for the College World Series — and played eight Major League seasons after being drafted by Minnesota in the eighth round in 2009.
As a pro, Dozier was an All-Star in 2015 and a Gold Glove infielder in 2017 with Minnesota. He was a World Series champion with the Washington Nationals in 2019.
He also spent time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.
Dozier’s college path was a little different from many of his friends because it took him outside of North Mississippi.
He bonded with late Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer and soon became an impact player in Hattiesburg.
Dozier said he felt prepared academically and athletically for the transition from high school to college. He credits former IAHS baseball coach Brian Long for helping him get ready on and off the field.
“Coach Long was a big part and helped make me who I am, coaching at the high school level, mentoring me and teaching me the game,” Dozier said. “I have a lot of memories with him.”
And with his brother Clay as well.
Playing high school baseball with your brother is not an experience everyone gets.
“You kind of take that for granted during the time you’re there,” Dozier said. “Then you move on, and you’re like, ‘Wow, it was pretty cool playing with your brother. You’ll never get the chance to do that again.’”
Dozier earned his degree in business and marketing at Southern Miss.
Now in retirement from an MLB career in which he hit 192 home runs, Dozier spends time with family and has business interests in a number of communities — Tupelo being one — in and around Mississippi.
In the big leagues, his small-town background made him the exception.
“I would say, the majority were from larger cities,” Dozier said of his fellow pro athletes. “There are some few and far between that grew up in towns of 3,000.”
Despite arguably having fewer resources growing up than many of his colleagues, Dozier said he didn’t have any trouble competing.
“It really goes to show you that, with hard work and dedication, it doesn't matter where you come from,” he said. “Small city, big city, whatever it is, if you’re driven, you set a goal, and you want to achieve it then anything’s possible.”
He’s excited to share that message in Fulton this weekend. Although his address is Hattiesburg, Fulton maintains a special place.
“Fulton, Itawamba … that will always be home for me,” he said. “All my best friends still live there. Every time I come into town we just pick back up where we left off.”