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New guy in town: Indians pitcher Chase Dollander finds new rhythms in the Northwest

Spokane Indians pitcher Chase Dollander (right) speaks with SPR's Brandon Hollingsworth at Avista Stadium, Wednesday, April 17.
Bud Bareither, Spokane Indians
Spokane Indians pitcher Chase Dollander (right) speaks with SPR's Brandon Hollingsworth at Avista Stadium, Wednesday, April 17.

Chase Dollander’s path to professional baseball has landed him in Spokane, a long way from his Augusta, Georgia home. He knew it from the moment he set foot in town.

“I’m so used to humidity and heat this time of year, and immediately sweating as soon you walk outside of the house,” Dollander said. “I come here, and it’s 32 degrees the first day I’m here and I’m like, ‘What in the world’s going on?’”

The unfamiliar clime hasn’t held him back. In his first three starts for the High-A Spokane Indians, Dollander notched a 2.93 ERA in 15.1 innings. The 2023 first-round Colorado Rockies draft pick struck out 27 batters in his first three games; a career-high 12 strikeouts came in the April 19 game against the Everett AquaSox.

Though not yet 24, Dollander is already familiar with the pressures of being a touted baseball star and public figure.

His 2022 arrival at the University of Tennessee coincided with the renaissance of the school’s baseball program under head coach Tony Vitello. Sustained success raised the team’s profile and made its players household names in Knoxville, where the university is located. At the same time, a landmark 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed college athletes to put their names and faces on endorsements and merchandise without penalty. That made Dollander and his teammates even more recognizable.

“All fans that I’ve had interactions with have been awesome. I don’t have anybody that’s asked for anything outrageous. But sometimes it just gets to be too much, where I just need my space,” Dollander said, referring to being recognized in Knoxville. “It just kind of got to that point where I did not want to go out in public.”

He’s starting over in the Northwest League, where his face and name aren’t nearly as familiar to local audiences. It affords Dollander an anonymity and freedom he didn’t always get in his college career. It also provides some unintentional and humbling humor.

“There are times where I’m out and people are like, ‘Oh, I recognize you. You play for the Indians,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ and they’re like, ‘Who are you?” Dollander said.

And while he’s happy to interact with Indians fans, it’s unlikely you’ll run into the pitcher posing for photos at Riverfront Park or having lunch in the Garland District. The team’s schedule keeps him too busy to do much sightseeing in Spokane.

The Indians typically play six days out of seven with Mondays off. On home game days, Dollander gets to Avista Stadium around ten in the morning and doesn’t leave until after nine o’clock at night. In between are workouts and practices, and weeklong road trips to play other Northwest League teams out-of-town.

“Most of my time is spoken for,” he said. “That doesn’t leave a lot of room to explore. Mondays are spent sleeping in because we’ve had a long week, or just decompress and relax a little bit, rather than going out and doing something.”

An outdoorsy sort, Dollander said there is one Inland Northwest locale that piques his interest.

“I’ve heard going to Coeur d’Alene is really nice. I kind of want to go check that out, one off day sometime soon,” he said.

For players, baseball’s minor league system is constructed like a ladder. Lower rungs lead to higher ones, culminating with a promotion to the major league team. The Spokane Indians occupy a lower rung, called Single-A. If Dollander pitches well, he will advance to the Rockies’ Double-A team in Hartford, Connecticut, then to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes and hopefully a spot in the majors with the Rockies at Denver’s Coors Field.

The time spent on each rung is intended to make a player better at what they do. The demands become tougher, the batters are a tougher strikeout, and the challenges get more complicated. Dollander says he wants to establish critical routines and make them second nature by the time he leaves Spokane.

“You’re not as mature [in college]. As soon as you hit professional baseball, you have to mature pretty quick,” Dollander said. “I feel like, with the establishment with routines, and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, that’s just going to help me accelerate to the next level as fast as I want to go.”

Neither Dollander nor the Indians know how long he’ll be on the team’s roster. Those decisions are made by higher powers. But in the time he has among the evergreens, Dollander thinks he’ll find out what he needs to do to keep ascending the ladder to the major leagues.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.