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In final season, Dufek looks to carry on family tradition of excellence

Said Alsalah/Daily
Mike Dufek during the game against Michigan State on Saturday April 18th 2009 at the Ray Fisher Arena. Buy this photo

Daily Sports Writer
Published March 25, 2010

Look closely at Mike Dufek as he strides out to his territory at first base, and you’ll see the typical gear: a cap on his head, mitt on his hand, ball in his back pocket.

If you get a good enough look, you may even see a determined expression on his face or eye black smeared across his cheeks.

But what you won’t see is the sixty years worth of success, leadership and Wolverine tradition that follows his name everywhere he goes.

The next time the senior fouls a ball off his leg and opens up a cut, try to look at the blood that comes out.
It just might be maize and blue.

A familiar name

Those Michigan fans who have attended football games for as long as the Pope has attended mass smile knowingly whenever Dufek’s name is announced at Ray Fisher Stadium. Not necessarily for him, but because they know about his predecessors.

The first baseman’s grandfather, Don Dufek Sr., was a standout fullback for the Wolverines from 1948-50. His uncle, Don Jr., was an All-American defensive back in Ann Arbor from 1973-75, and his uncle Bill played offensive tackle for Michigan from 1974-78, also attaining All-American status. All the Dufek men would go on to play in the NFL (as did Mike’s father, Joe, who played at Yale in his college days).

They were all leaders, too. Joe played quarterback, the general on the field; Don Sr. was chosen as the team’s MVP in 1950; and Don Jr. was elected a captain both at Michigan and during his career with the Seattle Seahawks.

It’s no wonder, then, that Mike was selected as a co-captain for the 2010 season. Leadership is genetic in the Dufek family.

“I definitely learned from my uncles and my dad and my grandfather,” Dufek said after practice Tuesday. “Everybody in my family taught me the right way to do things. I guess in the end, that really led to being a leader. Just leading by example is the number one key … they all taught me the right way.”

Despite his family's football pedigree, Dufek was blessed with much greater baseball talent. And with all of his connections to Ann Arbor, Michigan was always the first baseman’s top choice. He first caught the Wolverine coaches’ eyes during summer camps that Dufek attended while in high school.

Those visits also confirmed his interest in the school. The issue, however, wasn’t whether he wanted Michigan — it was whether Michigan wanted him. Dufek was lightly recruited as a pitcher/outfielder coming out of Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz. Since NCAA baseball teams have fewer scholarships to give than other major sports, even a player of Dufek's caliber was not guaranteed a full ride. If he were to play for the Wolverines, it would have to be in a walk-on role, at least in the early part of his career. It would also have to be at a new position, as his athleticism limited his potential in the outfield.

“(Recruiting Dufek) was easy in the sense that he made it very clear that he wanted to come, so that was great,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “It wasn’t easy in the sense that he really wanted to hit and he wasn’t blessed with a lot of foot speed. It’s tough if you’re a hitter who doesn’t have a lot of speed, so you got to really hit. And to his credit, he really hits.

“We gave (the opportunity) to him, and we’re thankful we did, because he’s been a really good player for us.”

That hitting prowess led to a first team All-Big Ten season in 2009, one in which he hit .304 with 17 home runs and 59 RBI. The 17 homers led the team and all first basemen in the conference — good enough for third place all-time for Michigan in a single season.

And though Dufek isn’t satisfied with his power numbers so far in 2010 (he's slugging only .411, down .216 from last season), he’s still managing a .329 batting average with 20 runs knocked in.

Taking charge

The senior’s leadership qualities were so apparent early in his career that it “really came as no surprise” that he was selected as one of the co-captains for this season, according to senior utility man Mike Kittle.

“Everyone kind of had a pretty good idea it was going to be Dufek and (senior catcher Chris) Berset,” Kittle said. “Him and Berset are doing a good job keeping the team together ... we wouldn’t have voted him captain if he didn’t think he could lead us. No doubt.”

And the coaches supported the choice.