By Rob Rains
Brandon Dickson thought he was going to have to miss the upcoming reunion of the 2011 world champion Cardinals, for a good reason.
It was a reason he never would have expected 10 years ago, much less when Dickson’s baseball career began in 2006 as an undrafted free agent signed out of Tusculum University in Tennessee.
While the Cardinals will honor their last championship team on Sept. 17-19, Dickson thought – until Tuesday – that he would be playing for another team, the Triple A Memphis Redbirds, as they host Louisville that weekend.
Those plans changed when Dickson got the news that he was going to be added to the Cardinals roster on Wednesday when the team can add two players as September callups.
It’s just the latest development in what Dickson says has been a “crazy year,” which included being a member of the U.S. team that won the silver medal in the Olympics in Tokyo.
Dickson is rejoining the Cardinals nine years after his last major-league appearance. He pitched in four games in 2011 and four more in 2012.
“I really can’t believe I’m still going,” said the 36-year-old Dickson. “I feel like there’s very few people who make it to this age and are still able to play and compete. I’m grateful for that.
“I feel like coming from where I came from it’s not something that should have happened. … My career has come full circle. It’s extremely meaningful.
“I didn’t know if this opportunity would ever come again so I’m extremely grateful and I will not take this for granted.”
Dickson’s career took him to Japan after his brief stay in the major leagues, where he pitched for eight years with the Orix Buffaloes. He thought his career might have ended before this season began, but instead he became a member of a very select group of players who has both a World Series ring and an Olympic medal, and now is heading back to the majors.
Fifteen years ago, Dickson never would have believed all of that could happen.
He had completed his junior year at Tusculum, an NCAA Division II school, and was enjoying a good season in a summer league in Virginia when Cory Meacham, a friend from his hometown of Marbury, Ala., signed with the Cardinals after being drafted in the 37th round out of a community college in Alabama.
“I think he told the scout about me and they decided to give me a look,” Dickson said. “Literally I went to a local college and threw a bullpen to the guy’s son. The next thing I knew I was in rookie ball in Johnson City. Things haven’t slowed down since.
“Getting a World Series ring, then an Olympic medal. It’s crazy how one thing leads to another. I don’t know that it will ever sink in. The game led me to meeting my wife. My whole life has changed because of one moment pretty much.”
Dickson climbed through the Cardinals farm system to reach the major leagues in 2011. After two relief appearances, he made what would turn out to be his only career start in the majors on Sept. 1 – 10 years ago on Wednesday – at Milwaukee. He was not on the postseason roster, but still qualified for a ring when the Cardinals beat the Rangers to win the World Series.
He made four more relief appearances in 2012, spending the rest of the year at Memphis, before the opportunity came to sign to pitch in Japan the following year.
“It was a way to keep playing the game and make a little money to support my family and live off,” Dickson said. “It was a huge experience for me and my family I didn’t think I would ever have and my wife never thought she would have. Our kids got to experience something other kids will never get to experience, living over there.”
The Dickson’s have three children, daughters 7 and 5 and a 2-year-old son who was born in Japan.
Because of the pandemic, Dickson had to spend last season away from his family, who were not able to travel to Japan and stayed at their home in Alabama. His family was the reason he did not return to Japan this season.
“I signed to go back there and kind of had the expectation that the family could come,” Dickson said. “I assumed we would be back together but that ended up not being the case. They kept saying it should happen at any time but it kept getting postponed and pushed back and it never happened.
“Eventually I was just like, ‘Look I’m going to stay with my family. It’s not going to work out for me.’”
Dickson thought the decision to not return to Japan might been the end of his career. Still, he had an idea in the back of his mind that perhaps he would get a chance to make the Olympic team.
“I thought I would have an opportunity to play in the American qualifier and maybe the Olympics, but I didn’t really know,” Dickson said.
Playing in the Olympics had been a goal for Dickson back to when he was a young boy and watched the games on television. The fact the games were in Japan was an added bonus.
“I’ve wanted to do it no matter where it was,” Dickson said. “That was a goal.”
Dickson pitched in the qualifying round, and then was added to the U.S. roster for the games, where he pitched in three games.
“I still can’t put it into words,” Dickson said. “Before I went I was extremely excited and even now that it’s over it’s the same situation. It’s kind of surreal; you can’t believe that it happened.
“It’s hard to pick just one moment. Stepping on the field the first time was surreal. Playing the game, and knowing you are representing the USA on the Olympic stage. That moment is pretty surreal. I took that to heart big time.”
As grateful as Dickson was to get a World Series ring, helping the U.S. win the silver medal carries a special meaning Dickson knows he will never forget.
“The ring was more of a gift,” Dickson said. “I’m grateful for it, but the medal is more than just me. It represents everybody that came before me and everybody that’s coming after me. It represents the whole country.
“We didn’t have names on the back of our jerseys. The only name that mattered was the one on the front. That’s what we were there for; that’s what we were about. The team was not a team of individuals, it was a bunch of guys that came together for one goal and that was to win an Olympic medal and represent our country the best way we know how.
“To me that trumps any other experience, and it’s something we will never forget.”
One of his Olympic teammates was Edwin Jackson, who also was on the 2011 Cardinals and plans on attending the reunion.
“I asked him if he was going to wear his medal to the ceremony,” Dickson said.
Now, Dickson can show off his own medal.
Dickson returned from the Olympics to rejoin the Redbirds, having re-signed with his former organization following the qualifying games. He expected to pitch for Memphis for the rest of the season, until he found out he was coming back to the majors. He will join the Cardinals on Wednesday in Cincinnati for a split doubleheader against the Reds.
“Another surreal moment,” he said.
With everything that has happened to him this season, Dickson is OK with waiting a while to find out what next year might bring – the end of his career, or another opportunity.
“If I’m healthy and somebody wants me for next year we’ll approach that,” Dickson said. “If not we’ll go back home and figure out the next step. I’ve been thinking about that for 15 years. We’ll figure something out.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photos by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports