SARASOTA, FLA. — Thursday's postgame cookout for the Orioles players and staff didn't look much like a graduation ceremony — in lieu of "Pomp and Circumstance," there was a tub the size of a small canoe filled with potatoes and crawfish.
The only caps were the twist-offs from the bottles of beer, and gowns — there were no gowns.
But tucked inside the cabin of a truck that five fellow Nicholls State alumni drove overnight, hauling a trailer full of 450 pounds of fresh crawfish from Louisiana to Sarasota, was a diploma that was decades in the making for Orioles third base/infield coach Bobby Dickerson.
Dickerson, 52, has chipped away at his general studies degree since he was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1987, and after completing it this offseason, was presented with his degree by two Orioles players whose career he's had a major influence upon — All-Stars Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado.
"That was cool," Dickerson said. "I think they have a new — I don't know what the right word is — a new respect, a new understanding of the things I try to exemplify to them and teach them, about perseverance and hard work, and how where you are now doesn't mean where you're going to be tomorrow. I think they have a different look after they realized that, because they didn't realize that either."
Dickerson's degree was celebrated at an event he said he and Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman — an adopted Louisianan who went to LSU — have tried to do for years. They've long wanted a crawfish boil during camp, but had little luck making it happen.
"It's not as easy as it seems," Dickerson said. "Companies that would come and do it are very, very expensive. Gausman made an attempt and the company was trying to kill him financially."
So, Dickerson mentioned that desire at the Nicholls State baseball First Pitch Banquet, where he was a guest speaker, and volunteers popped up at once. Baseball coach Seth Thibodeaux didn't make the trip in season, but Jody Pleaisence, David Keller, Ben Marlborough, and Rafe Blades did — catching the crawfish fresh Wednesday and transporting them on ice in white foam coolers to camp. Before Thursday's game against the Boston Red Sox, the live crawfish drew quite a crowd of Orioles players.
The postgame feast did, too. Gausman and fellow starters Chris Tillman, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy claimed a table and accounted for plenty of crawfish among their new clique.
Machado tried them for the first time and got hooked, though Schoop said it's "not for him." Countless others on the team, including many of Dickerson's fellow coaches, swung through for a feast that included a cauldron the size of a truck tire filled with Jambalaya pasta.
But once the postgame meetings were done and manager Buck Showalter arrived outside, Dickerson soon found out the day he had planned to bring the team together had a dual purpose.
His original diploma was issued this winter, but because he was continuing a degree started as a teen, the school's address on record for him was his childhood home. It was mailed there and never recovered. The university president issued a new one and sent it south with the crawfish, and Showalter turned the event over to Schoop and Machado. Last summer, Dickerson got to tell Schoop he was an All-Star for the first time, an emotional moment for both. Machado and Schoop are Dickerson's prized pupils.
Schoop said it meant a lot to be able to reverse roles and deliver something so special to Dickerson.
"It was good to see him and his face, happy about it," Schoop said. "It was good. I feel good about it. ... It meant a lot to give it to him. It's something he's always wanted and never had a chance and went back and got it."
"It was nice — a lot of people that mean a lot to me were there," Dickerson said. "Obviously, Buck Showalter — I met Buck in 1987, my first manager in Fort Lauderdale, just leaving Nicholls State for the first time. That's kind of ironic that he's actually the one that announced it and gave it to Jonathan and Manny to give to me. It was pretty cool."