Saltillo head baseball coach Johnny Bolen thought the field would be empty last Sunday after two tough playoff games the day before against Senatobia on the road.
“I got there and Jeff (Dillard) and his dad were there for batting practice,” Bolen said. “That is just the way Jeff is. You never have to push him, because he is always ready to work.”
After growing up the son of former major league baseball player Steve Dillard, and playing catch with former Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice, it might have seemed strange for Jeff to be anywhere else but a baseball field.
“I have been around it my whole life,” said Jeff, a senior who started at shortstop for Saltillo this past season. “My dad retired when I was about four years old, so I don’t remember much about him playing. But when he coached in the minors I got to meet several players and learn what it takes to be good.”
He remembered those lessons and helped his Saltillo team to the first round of the Class 3A playoffs this season, before they lost to Senatobia in the decisive third game Tuesday. Dillard hit .432 and was second on the team with three home runs.
“We probably surprised some people this season,” Dillard said. “We got great pitching from Bill Diggs and Jason Dickey. Plus, Chi Wesson and Eric Reynolds came through hitting.”
Dillard appears to have plenty of baseball in front of him. He is leaning toward Itawamba Community College. If he becomes an Indian Dillard would be the second member of his family to play for ICC coach Roy Cresap. His father Steve played on Cresap’s first Salitllo team which won a state championship.
From there Steve went on play at Ole Miss and the minor leagues before making the majors with the Boston Red Sox (1975-77), Detroit Tigers (1978), Chicago Cubs (1979-1981), and Chicago White Sox (1982).
Steve then coached in the minor leagues before bringing his family back to Mississippi last year.
“When I first got here there was a lot of talk about me being Steve Dillard’s son, but now people have gotten to know me and that has ended,” Jeff said.
That is just fine with Jeff’s dad.
“My wife and I always want our kids to feel free to do whatever they want, but to also be willing to work,” Steve said. “Baseball is just something Jeff and his brothers were around and picked up. One thing I am most proud of is the work ethic he has.”
Working in the weight room is one thing father and son feel helped Jeff improve this season. Another kind of work that Jeff doesn’t mind is in the classroom where he has a 4.0 grade point average. He also recently placed 2nd in Advanced Algebra at an area-wide math competition.
Bolen says that sharp mind helps in games where Dillard is like another coach on the field. There are some similarities between math and baseball, Dillard said.
“You have to be thinking ahead while your playing, and preparing what to do in certain situations,” Dillard said.
As for his personal thinking ahead Dillard hopes to major in engineering, and play baseball as long as possible.
“Baseball is just something I hope to always be around,” Dillard said.
This is the first year Steve hasn’t been involved in baseball either coaching or playing, but between having sons Jeff and Andy on the Saltillo team, and his 7th grader Tim, he has gotten his fill. But he is leaving the door open for returning to baseball as a scout perhaps.
“Baseball is a great game which kind of hooks you,” Steve said.
Especially if your last name is Dillard.