The baseball wasn't so good this summer for former Menomonee Falls three-sport star Doug Dekoning while competing in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League in Long Island, New York, but that didn't dampen his attitude one bit, as the UW-Milwaukee Horizon League All-Conference outfielder and all-around nice person was still grateful for the chance to expand his boundaries.
He displayed his class and dignity on a couple of fronts this summer, which wasn't easy to do while he was hitting a career-worst .235 for the Riverhead Tomcats (he never turned in an average below .448 in high school while earning three NOW All-Suburban selections including Player of the Year honors in 2007).
First and foremost, he wanted his hosts to know that he appreciated all of their hospitality.
"I lived with a very nice family and they had two younger sons who I got along well with," he said. "Though I wasn't there a lot (the team played almost everyday), I always felt welcome. When we had a chance, we had dinner by their pool."
He had a reason to feel right at home in Riverhead. The village as a population of 27,680 and was built in the 1930s as a Depression-era public works project and its post office, which dates back to that time, is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
"It was very laid back, a lot like the (Menomonee) Falls," he said, especially in comparison to New York City itself, which he had one chance to get to and which he laughingly referred to as "absolute chaos" (having walked through downtown Mahattan a few times myself, I fully understand his joint sense of dismay and wonder).
But the chaos he felt about New York City paled in comparison to his frustration with his play. He tried a new batting stance but still struck out too often. And while going for a diving catch in rightfield one game, he sprained his right shoulder, limiting his playing time. "I've still got a little pain," he said, "but it's basically OK. Just any quick movements hurt a little bit. I tell you, it was like adding insult to injury."
However, in true Dekoning fashion, he refused to use the injury as an excuse.
"Basically, I was swinging at good pitches and just not hitting them," he said. "I have to bridge that gap. ..I've never really had to struggle before like this. It was a great test of my composure."
He did have a couple of pretty good moments though, including a few nice catches, as well as a Crash Davis/Babe Ruth "call your shot" bit that every player who's ever picked up a bat wishes they could follow through on.
"I was on-deck once and told a buddy that I would hit a home run in my next at bat and I did," he said. "It was pretty funny, even though we still lost the game."
Dekoning said he couldn't wait to get home by the end of the season, and once he got there, he got a pleasent surprise as he was named to the NOW Newspapers 20th Anniversary baseball team.
This led to another moment of Dekoning-style class and dignity.
As he is wont to do, the communications major sent out a mass e-mail announcing the honor and essentially thanking all of those people who have ever supported his athletic endeavors from the first time he swung at a t-ball pitch, all the way up to now.
And with the way it was written, you got the feeling that it wasn't the first such e-mail that Dekoning has sent out.
"Everytime I receive an award of this nature or magnitude I think of you all and all your hard work you put into me and my development as a ballplayer and a person," he wrote. "I am thankful to all of you. ...None of you are forgotten. This award is as much yours as it is mine, and for all you have done, I take this moment to say thank you!!"
One gets the feeling as he continues his road towards becoming a teacher and a better ballplayer at UW-Milwaukee, that this won't be the last such e-mail that Dekoning sends out.