UNA alumnus scores job with MLB

UNA Alumnus John Robert Dawson tosses a football to an official during a game against Jacksonville State in the 2013 season. Dawson works as a clubhouse manager for the St. Louis Cardinals spring training facility in Jupiter, Florida.

Not many people can claim they started their professional baseball career in the same minor league organization as MLB all-stars Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain and Jonathan Lucroy.

UNA alumnus J.R. Dawson, who graduated spring 2015, can now use that statement as his claim to fame.

The former head football equipment manager for the Lions accepted a clubhouse manager position with the Helena Brewers last summer, a minor league baseball team in Montana. The advanced rookie ball team is an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

After his time ended with the Brewers, Dawson accepted the clubhouse attendant position with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, working at the team’s spring training facility in Jupiter, Florida.

“I may not be an athlete, but I want to be in the major leagues,” Dawson said. “I want to be at the top of whatever I’m doing, just like the players. This is where major league players start out at, and this is where I’m starting at as well.”

Dawson said his “road to the show” is very similar to a minor league baseball player’s journey to the majors.

“Players can be moved up during the season, but I have to wait until the season is over, and maybe there will be an opening,” Dawson said. “Not only can you move up levels, but you can also skip levels if you do a good job.”

Dawson’s duties as a clubhouse manager vary day-to-day. He said his job is being each player’s caretaker.

“This isn’t your typical nine-to-five job,” he said. “I may work 16 to 18 hours a day and be off a while when the team is on the road. I’m the one who feeds (the players), cleans the clubhouse and I do their laundry.”

Dawson said the most rewarding perk of his job is being around baseball every day.

“I don’t have to sit in an office and feel like I’m doing nothing all day,” he said. “I get to be around baseball the entire day. Part of me working is getting to watch part of a baseball game and watch batting practice. There is nothing better than that.”

Dawson has been taking care of athletes since middle school. He started in 2006 as an eighth grader at Colbert County High School helping the varsity baseball team as a manager for coach Phil Bates.

Dawson also worked for UNA offensive coordinator Cody Gross during Gross’ tenure as head football coach at Colbert County in 2007.

“He did everything,” Gross said. “He was the manager, the trainer, he washed the laundry and he did the field setup, the whole deal. He basically ran the whole thing by himself. It really allowed me to coach and not worry about that stuff.”

Gross said he feels like it should be him thanking Dawson instead of the other way around.

“When J.R. sent me a text thanking me, I was very appreciative,” Gross said. “My response back to him was that he has done a lot more for me than I ever did for him, but I’m glad he looks at it that way, and that means the world to me. I’m glad our paths crossed.”

Junior Aubrey Champion, the current head football manager for UNA, worked with Dawson in his first season. Champion said Dawson helped him get on the right path for the head position.

“J.R. taught me everything I needed to know about being a manager,” Champion said. “He taught me the right way to do things but also showed me how to have fun while doing it.”

In all circumstances, Dawson always gave his best effort, said senior Ryan Mason, a former UNA football player.

“He’s an example of perseverance,” Mason said. “One thing about J.R. was that he had a good reputation and always came to work. I wish him the best.”