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Small Texas town revels in watching Dodgers pitcher Dustin May blossom so close to home

Dustin May pitching for Northwest High School in Fort Worth, Texas.
(Courtesy of John Herrick)

The first time Dustin May set the Twitter-sphere aflame with a two-seam fastball that made a fool of a four-time All-Star, a small enclave of Dodgers fans in suburban Fort Worth, Texas, rejoiced.

May, 23, grew up in the small town of Justin, roughly 30 miles from Globe Life Field, where the Dodgers have spent the last few days participating in the National League Division Series. To hear May’s high school coach tell it, most in the blue-collar community of about 4,000 are devotees of the Dodgers’ star rookie pitcher.

“He’s built a lot of interest,” John Herrick said. “The whole community is really Dustin May followers. It’s really cool out here.”

Messages often fill up a text chain composed of May’s parents, agent and former Northwest High coaches. On a night in early August, the conversation revolved around May’s viral moment. No one could fathom the youngster’s wicked manipulation of the 99 mph pitch that broke in on the hands of San Diego’s Manny Machado and left the Padres third baseman grimacing at the ugly inning-ending swing he made to combat it.

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The group chat has blown up numerous times since. May ended his first complete season on a major league roster with a 3-1 record, 2.57 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 56 innings. He regularly tricked hitters into taking hacks at cartoonish pitches and was often highlighted by the popular social media account Pitching Ninja.

On Tuesday night, when May emerged from the Dodgers bullpen at Globe Life Field for his first outing of the postseason, the text chain dinged again.

May was the first member of the Dodgers relief corps to throttle the Padres in his team’s 5-1 NLDS-opening victory. He retired all six batters he faced — three by strikeout — in the fifth and sixth innings. He made 27 pitches and generated seven swings-and-misses. On six occasions, his signature sinker left his hand at 100 mph.

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“We can’t believe the things he’s doing now,” Herrick said.

Herrick oversaw May’s transformation from a scrawny 6-foot shortstop who threw in the low 80s out of the bullpen to a 6-foot-6 prospect who touched 95 mph and spun one of the best curveballs in his 2016 draft class. He was drafted in the third round by the Dodgers.

It wasn’t long ago that May struggled even to earn the attention of college recruiters. But he blossomed between his junior and senior seasons. By the time he was getting ready to graduate and fulfill his commitment to pitch at Texas Tech, scouts from all 30 major league teams attended his starts. Herrick often made overflow arrangements, positioning some scouts in the Northwest High bullpen so everyone could have a clear view of May’s pregame workouts.

Herrick can’t help but marvel at how far May has come.

“Once he got that opening day start,” in July in place of the injured Clayton Kershaw, Herrick said, “I thought, ‘This guy belongs. He’s not going anywhere.’”

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Herrick lives outside Fort Worth. He is always two hours ahead of the action in Los Angeles.

But the time difference hasn’t prevented him from watching May and offering support from afar. Herrick retired from teaching two years ago. The schedule Herrick, still a youth baseball coach, now keeps gives him ample time to watch Dodgers games without worrying if he is up too late.

Walker Buehler needed 95 pitches to get through four innings and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam, but he preferred to talk about the Dodgers bullpen.

This week is no different.

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Unlike teammate and Game 2 starter Clayton Kershaw, May previously pitched near his hometown. He made a start at Globe Life Field on Aug. 28, a six-inning, two-run outing that represented a step forward in his ability to better incorporate offspeed pitches in his game plan.

May acknowledged Wednesday it was “really exciting” to be close to home again and to pitch in front of his parents and girlfriend, who were among the crowd of loved ones permitted to watch games in person. But the right-hander, who is typically reserved, didn’t betray further sentimentality about the moment.

As for his relationship with Herrick?

“He was a great coach,” May said. “And I wouldn’t change it for the world. … He’s definitely turned into a great friend for sure.”


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