ARLINGTON — Small-framed and shy, Dakota White is the sort of high school freshman who in the movies gets picked on by insecure jocks.The 16-year-old sometimes struggles with his speech. Because of that, says his father, Andy White, he often feels so uncomfortable in everyday situations, including at school. In a conversation, many of his responses may consist of only a word or short phrase.But one would never know it from watching him when hes around the powerhouse Martin High School baseball team, which at noon Friday makes its second straight appearance in the Class 5A state championship tournament in Round Rock, against Fort Bend Dulles.Dakota, who served as an equipment manager for the schools freshman football and baseball teams, was called up this spring to help with the varsity squad full time when the playoffs began.By all accounts, the players have adopted him as one of their own. In fact, his father said, Dakota is as at ease with the Warriors as he is at home.Forget the stereotypes, which are rarely true anyway.Our kids kind of took him in and added him as part of the team, coach Curt Culberston said Wednesday. He has fun out there, and Ill tell you this: Nobody picks on him. These baseball kids arent going to let that happen.Dakota, who says his favorite team is the Philadelphia Phillies, knows his way around a ballfield. He played several seasons for Arlington Southwest Little League before giving football a try in seventh grade. He decided that wasnt for him and the next year became an equipment manager.His interest in the role has blossomed to the point that he is now interested in studying it in college and pursuing it as a career, his father said.Expecting a trophyWhen Dakota arrived at Martin this fall, he went to work as equipment manager for the freshman football team, which is coached by Ken Rose, a longtime family friend who is also the Warriors pitching coach.Quiet and reserved when hes not sure of himself, Dakota is excited and vocal around the team. Even star players have taken notice.Hes always cheering loud and making noise from the dugout, the Warriors top starting pitcher, Turner Larkins, who at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds towers over Dakota, said after practice Wednesday. It gets me fired up when I go out there. I like that.Infielder Landon Sackett, who, like Larkins, is a junior, said, From an outsiders perspective, he seems at home around us. He doesnt just stay off by himself.A memorable moment came last weekend when the Warriors faced Southlake Carroll for a chance to return to the state tournament, where they had lost in the semifinals last year.In Game 2, I sent [Dakota] over to get the lineup from [Dragons] coach [Larry] Hughes, and man, he was fired up, Culberston said.The Warriors followed that up with a victory, making the occasion extra special, Dakota confirmed, along with his expectation that the team will return home with the trophy this year.A moment of a lifetimeAnother memorable moment came Thursday, when Dakota boarded the charter bus to accompany the team down to Round Rock. It was his first trip without his parents, who planned to make the drive Friday.Hes nervous, Rose said. Ill take good care of him.One close observer of the team said that he doesnt view Dakota differently from any of the other kids and doesnt believe that the players acceptance of Dakota is based on anything specific.Whats special is that they all get to experience this together, said Ken Dowdy, whose son, senior outfielder Drew Dowdy, has collected clutch hits to help Martin clinch the last two playoff series. This is life. Its a moment that will last forever.Andy White said he and his wife, Sandy, are grateful to the coaches and players for having a positive influence on other areas of Dakotas life as well.This has been great for keeping him focused on schoolwork and staying out of trouble, Andy White said. Staff writer Stephen English contributed to this report.
Patrick M. Walker, 682-232-4674 Twitter: @patrickmwalker1