Author’s Note: I first crossed paths with Steve Dohm, father of Mississippi State transfer pitcher Nate Dohm, prior to the 2023 college baseball season. We exchanged thoughts about college baseball and were both anxious for Opening Day to arrive, he as a player parent and I as a longtime fan and revived journalist. The more I learned of the journey Nate and his family took from Ball State and Indiana to Mississippi, the more I saw a story I thought people should hear, and he graciously agreed to this interview. But, the message that follows might also be found in the families of the other transfer portal players who revamped MSU’s baseball roster in the offseason, or any other sport at the school, or any other school in the NCAA. The transfer portal, particularly since its association with Name Image & Likeness (NIL) beginning July 1, 2021, sometimes gets bad reviews and is blamed for many of the ills in the brave new world of college athletics. But, one need only look into the other, and often underreported, side of it, from the viewpoint of the moms, the dads, and the families of players, who for whatever reason are looking for a fresh start, to see what it can do for players who simply need, in the words of Steve Dohm, “something different.”
“The Portal Did Exactly What It Was Supposed To Do”
By Doug Kyle
Transfers in college sports have been around forever. Even prior to the advent of the official “portal” mechanism, there was a way for student athletes to change schools, usually with a year sitting out as part of the rule and the traditional “four in five” guideline for eligibility. In recent years, the NCAA began to receive a plethora of appeals for waiving of the sitting out, and that in part led to the current policy where an athlete could place themselves in the Transfer Portal, an “I’m available” list, if you will, which on principle was intended to be a smoother process than what had been in place before.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. How did our example for today, college baseball pitcher, and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association 2023 Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List member, Nate Dohm, ever get to the portal? What were the conditions or reasons that led him to throw his name into the hat and seek a transfer following his freshman season at Ball State?
Steve Dohm served as his son’s coach growing up, until Nate demonstrated talent and skill level in baseball that led to travel ball activities and coaching from other individuals, allowing Steve to return some of his focus to his career in Industrial Separation. He continued to be Nate’s dad, as he always will, but the refining of Nate’s performance was now in a network of more experienced hands.
And, as Steve and wife Amy, Nate’s mom, comment here, Nate’s revelation as a budding star was a somewhat belated one, but better late than ever.
Nate Dohm went through as much of the recruiting and college commitment process as was available to him, albeit a shell of the one typically found outside of a COVID-restricted world. And, he matriculated to Ball State, where he had a good freshman year, and possessing the self-starting drive of many successful athletes, overcame on the field whatever was nagging him off it at BSU. But, as astute parents who still knew their ever-changing son well, Amy and Steve noticed something during the holidays when Nate was out of school, something more than just the maturity of their son’s first semester away from home.
This was even before Nate’s freshman season for Ball State in 2022 began, one which had a rough start with him surrendering two of the five home runs he would give up the whole year, when he started and lasted two innings in a loss to Air Force. But, true to form, he rebounded and steadily improved throughout the season, toward final marks of 4-3 and a 5.71 ERA in 41 innings pitched. The peak of the progress happened May 21 in a 13-strikeout, seven-inning complete game, 13-2 win on the road over Miami (Ohio), which clinched Ball State’s fifth MAAC championship on the final day of the regular season. It was also a performance that brought Nate recognition by Collegiate Baseball on their “National Pitchers of the Week” list, but it didn’t stop that feeling of something amiss.
While no one could quite put their finger on a single cause or solution, there seemed to be a consensus between Nate, Amy, and Steve Dohm that the lack of information and exposure, which was everything they had at their means at the time, hadn’t given them ample opportunity to be more thorough in their research and evaluation prior to commitment. There really wasn’t anything that Ball State or its Head Baseball Coach, Rich Maloney, had done wrong, but even with Nate’s success in his first collegiate season, things just didn’t feel right.
So, Nate and Steve, both self-confessed college baseball junkies who’ll watch any game they can find, anyone, anytime, began to talk. Steve confides that they were at a crossroads. He could see that if Nate’s promising career was to continue, it almost certainly had to be elsewhere, or not at all. And, they discussed all the options; it wasn’t just a stars-in-the-eyes aspiration to move on up and play in a higher profile program or conference. They even talked about whether dropping down to junior/community college level would be an option, Amy and Steve recall. They were willing to consider anything.
From friends he’d made during travel and high school ball, Steve knew Nate’s first move had to be officially entering the transfer portal. What he didn’t know or anticipate was the feeding frenzy that followed as soon as Nate's name was there. And, when someone mentioned to him that Mississippi State was looking for pitchers, there was immediate interest. The SEC, the 2021 National Champions, Ron Polk. “You can’t write the story of college baseball without talking about Mississippi State,” Steve remarks.
And, Mississippi State wasn’t the only school beckoning consideration from Nate and family. Amy Dohm talks about the response and calls from the many conferences and schools, including MSU Head Coach Chris Lemonis. And, while compensation is always nice, the pairing of the portal and NIL that so many assumptively deem as mutually inclusive, wasn’t ever a consideration or factor for the Dohms. Nate just wanted another chance, Amy and Steve just wanted him to be happy.
Shortly, the decision was made to “head south,” as Amy describes it. Nate was summoned home from summer ball, and the trip to visit Mississippi State began. And, somehow the travel secret got out. Steve Dohm jokingly likens it to having a satellite camera trained on you. Throughout the drive, Nate’s phone never stopped, from one college coach after another inviting him to come check them out, while they were “in the area.” And the young man handled it well, Amy remembers.
The Dohm family visited Mississippi State, toured Dudy Noble Field and all the facilities, met the coaching staff, and liked what they saw. But, having taken what turned out to be the wrong fork in the road once, Nate was quite deliberate about finalizing his choice, even visiting another SEC school during the trip, before eventually calling to give Lemonis the news.
And now? Let Steve Dohm, a Purdue graduate and die hard Boilermaker tell it. “We are 100% Bulldog fans now, Nate loves the school, we love the school.” And, possibly the most important opinion of all comes from mom, Amy.
The next time you hear someone demonizing, badmouthing, or blaming the transfer portal for the ruination of college sports, think of Nate, Amy, and Steve Dohm, satisfied customers of the asset and the process. Of course, the portal has led some student athletes to make hasty and ill-advised decisions, and many players have not gotten out of it what they may have believed, or were led to believe, would emerge. But, you can’t convince the Dohm family of Zionsville, IN (Indianapolis area) that the opportunity to find “just a different place to play” didn’t send a young man’s college baseball career in a new and refreshing direction.