His fastball hummed through the air with its trademark zip. His curveball, known to buckle a few sets of knees, dove across the plate with its trademark bite.
On June 7, 1969, Ricky Dawson, a dazzling left-hander for Brunswick High School, was in total command atop the pitching mound at McCurdy Field.
“Ricky was a great pitcher,” said Jim Phillips, a former teammate. “I batted against him in practice. I always thought of myself as being a pretty good hitter. I had trouble doing anything against Ricky.”
Paul Gaither, of Brunswick, caught Dawson when they were Little League teammates.
“You had to make sure you caught it in the web [of the catcher’s mitt],” Gaither said. “Otherwise, it was going to hurt your hand.”
Dawson was not a particularly big guy. He stood about 5 feet, 10 inches and weighed “150 pounds soaking wet,” according to Gaither. But his fastball buzzed in the mid-to-upper 80s, and his curveball carried such sinister spin that a left-handed batter might bail out of the batter’s box, thinking he was about to get hit, only to watch the ball turn back over the plate for a strike.
“It was funny to watch some of the opposing batters go up and face him,” Gaither said.
Dawson’s younger brother, Roger, the longtime baseball coach at Brunswick, remembers that Ricky’s baseball pants were always worn thin around the left knee because he got so low on his follow through to the plate that it often scraped the dirt on the mound.
“He was a max-effort guy,” Roger Dawson said. “Just one of the fiercest competitors that I have ever seen.”
By the time Ricky Dawson stepped off the mound in the middle of the 10th inning on that sunny and warm Saturday afternoon at McCurdy, he had struck out 24, a state record for strikeouts in a game that still stands a half-century later.
But his team was in horrible shape.
Brunswick, as a direct result of one of its worst defensive performances of the season, trailed Southern Garrett 6-2 in the District 1 Class B-C championship game. The Railroaders committed nine errors behind Dawson, and that allowed Southern to score four unearned runs.
“I don’t know how you can make so many errors,” said Gaither, the team’s first baseman.
Brunswick pushed across a run in the 10th when Gaither was walked with the bases loaded. That allowed Mitch Deener to score after he had been hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the 10th.
But Southern’s Bob Finch shut the door after that to earn a complete-game victory and allow the Rams to cap their season with a district championship. There was no state tournament at the time.
Dawson, a junior at Brunswick, was saddled with the loss despite authoring one of the greatest performances by a high school pitcher in state history.
“Unreal,” said Roger Dawson, who was too young to recall most of the details, being 12 years younger than Ricky.
Dawson’s final line that Saturday: 10 innings pitched, six runs (two earned), six hits, 24 strikeouts and two walks.
The following Monday in The Frederick News-Post — there was no Sunday paper at the time — Dawson’s record did not even generate a headline.
Instead, it was reduced to the fine print of a small, two-column story about the game that appeared under a banner headline proclaiming Maurice Boyd’s heroics. Boyd’s two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh lifted Frederick High to a 5-4 victory over Fort Hill for the District Class A-AA championship.
Dawson’s masterpiece was overshadowed by the loss and the shoddy defensive work of his teammates.
“It’s hard to win with nine errors,” Gaither said.
Dawson grew up on East D Street in Brunswick, the son of former minor league outfielder Robert Dawson and his wife, Anna.
He was one of seven children and the second-oldest among five boys.
Ricky made his name on the baseball diamond and, more specifically, the pitcher’s mound, where he left a trail of flailing hitters in his wake.
“When Rick Dawson took the mound, 12 strikeouts became the expectation,” his brother, Roger, said.
And there were often more than that.
During his senior year at Brunswick, he struck out 18 in a 10-1 victory at Middletown, allowing just one hit in the process. He also no-hit Linganore that season.
“When I wanted a ball in a certain spot [as a catcher], he would put it there, even going back to our days in Little League,” Gaither said.
As a kid, Dawson drew four black dots in a rectangular pattern on the lower half of the family’s concrete garage and spent hours throwing a ball between them.
He grew up in a time when there were no pitch counts. Players pitched until their arms gave out, and they didn’t really think much of it. There was no such thing as Tommy John surgery.
“I don’t even want to think about how many pitches he threw in that [10-inning, 24-strikeout] game,” Roger Dawson said. “But I am sure it was more than 105.”
Ricky Dawson could have pursued a baseball career beyond high school, but he was also a talented vocalist, so he chased a singing career instead.
“My dad always said he could have been something [in baseball],” Roger Dawson said.
Ricky eventually went to work for the B&O Railroad. He married his girlfriend, Donna, and had three children, two sons, Rich and Seth, and a daughter, Courtney. Rich was the oldest, while Seth and Courtney were twins.
Dawson became a great baseball player despite the numerous health issues that plagued him as a child, including a rare kidney disorder.
At age 36, he had just finished mowing his lawn on Teen Barnes Road near Jefferson when he sat down on the front porch with a glass of tea. His wife called him inside for dinner. He stood up, then collapsed.
Before the ambulance arrived at Frederick Memorial Hospital, he was pronounced dead of a heart attack.
“The guys in Brunswick still talk about how great he was, not just in baseball, but as a person,” Roger Dawson said. “He was so talented in everything that he did.”
Ricky Dawson left behind a loving family and a baseball record that will likely never be touched.
“I have been a baseball coach for 31 years, and I can’t see anyone touching his strikeout record,” Roger said. “With the way pitch counts are these days, I just don’t think kids could get enough innings to have a chance.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story was corrected.