For Love of the Game: Dillard making the most of second chance in the bigs

By Adam Gore/LetsGoICC.com

FULTON – Former Itawamba Community College All-American pitcher Tim Dillard is making the most of his second chance in the game of baseball by recently making history with the Nashville Sounds.

The Saltillo native captured his 36th career win against the Oklahoma City Red Hawks to become the Sounds all-time win leader.

“Well, I’ve been tied for first for two years,” Dillard told Mack Burke of The Tennessean with a laugh. “It’s great because this is a great organization and a great city.”

Dillard (1-1; 2.14 ERA) stranded two inherited runners in the fifth inning and struck out the side in the sixth. Outfielder Caleb Gindl hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to give Nashville a 5-3 lead. Closer Rob Wooten picked up his 17th save of the season to help Dillard surpass former record holder Keith Brown, who pitched for the club from 1988-92.

“Nobody really knew about it, and finally somebody said something and everyone started congratulating me,” the 29-year old pitcher told The Tennessean. “Everyone was wondering why I was kind cheerleader in the dugout, but when Gindl hit that home run, I was like, ‘We’re going to win this game!’ “

The former Indian has pitched for the Sounds each season since 2007 in starter and reliever capacities, but at the start of the 2013 season uncertainty surrounded his career.

“I was hit with [the uncertainty] this off season because I couldn’t find a job,” said Dillard. “So I thought all the doors had been closed except for one when I went to Mexico.”

He started the 2013 season in the Mexican Baseball League before finding himself unemployed after three weeks in the league. The Lancaster Barnstormers of the Independent Atlantic League signed the right-handed pitcher before the Milwaukee Brewers purchased his contract on May 3 and sent him back to their Triple-A club in Nashville.

“It was one of those moments where I don’t know if I took it for granted or not, but I love it now more than ever have,” commented Dillard. “It’s just one of those things to just play hard as you can every time out and I felt like our team at ICC had a lot of those that were just like lets go out and play hard as we can now and not worry about what comes. That’s the philosophy I’ve tried to live by.”

Drafted out of ICC in 34th round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the Brewers, Dillard has spent four seasons in Milwaukee (2008, 09, 11, 12) and still remembers his call up to the show on May 23, 2008 like it was yesterday.

“We were actually going to on a bus trip to Memphis from Nashville when I got a call when I got a call from the manager telling me that I needed to get some stuff and go to the airport because I was going to the big leagues,” Dillard recalled. “I flew into Washington DC on Memorial Day Weekend when they just opened the billion dollar stadium a month before that so there was over 44,000 people at the game.”

“I got there about the time batting practice was going on and basically put my uniform on and went out for 30 minutes to play catch, went back in to immediately put my other uniform on for the game and went right back out there and then I was in about the sixth inning. It happened so fast, but my one goal was to look like I had done it before.”

“I was throwing to Jason Kendall, a guy that I had several baseball cards of him and told him that to make him feel old,” Dillard laughed. “I went out there and got a one, two, three inning and even struck a guy out. When we came back to the dugout Kendall was like ‘Dude, looks like you’ve done this before’ so getting a pat on the back by a veteran like that was really special.”

His first MLB win came against the Florida Marlins.

“There was a guy that actually hit a home run was the only reason I got the chance to pitch. I came in with a few guys on base and got a lucky play at third and they made a great play at home and they let me keep pitching,” said Dillard. “We got a go-ahead home run and (John) Axford came in and got the save. Next thing I know everyone is all over me, hoisting me up and I didn’t even realize I had got the win at the time so it was special.”

He has a glove with the date and score commemorating the win given to him by former teammate Takashi Saito.

Dillard’s fun-loving personality swept the nation with his well-known impersonation of ESPN personality Tim Kurkjian.

“When they came to Florida during spring training a lot of the guys were asking if I was going to do it and I didn’t really think I was, but our PR guys came by and told I was going to be out there in 10 minutes… I didn’t really know what I was going to say, but it turned out being really fun.”

Tim recalled a moment when he ran into Kurkjian in Chicago after the impersonation went viral on the web.

“He is a great guy,” Dillard said of the ESPN personality. “The reason it’s so fun is because he loves his job in a way that I’ve never seen in a human being and it’s contagious. Just having a conversation with him pumps you up about anything you are doing.”

Since his on-air antics, Dillard has created a buzz on his Twitter account, @DimTillard, with his #TimKurkjianTuesdays and #HarryCarayFridays.

He credits an awe-inspiring moment with Harry Caray involving his father, Steve, who also spent seven years in the MLB as a second baseman and over 20 years as a manager in the minor and major leagues for his twitter-famous shenanigans.

“I knew my dad had played in the big leagues, but it was before I was born so it wasn’t a bid deal because it’s what I grew up in,” Dillard commented. “I saw him on TV when they invited the minor league Cubs team to Wrigley and my dad was in the booth with Steven Stone and Harry Caray and then I was like ‘My dad is amazing! My dad is a big leaguer!’ and it stuck with me.”

Dillard credits his two seasons at ICC along with his head coach Rick Collier and teammates for playing a large role in the success in his career after being an Indian.

“Rick Collier is the man,” Dillard commented about ICC head baseball coach. “Rick helped me learn what means to be a ball player.”

He earned National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-Region 23 and All-American honors while being named Player of the Year in 2003 after leading ICC to a fifth place finish in the NJCAA World Series, the program’s best-ever finish.

“Playing in the World Series was the biggest stage I had played on,” said Dillard. “It was a direct result of a great time that had been put together in Rick’s first year. It was a great time because everyone was dedicated to the goal.”

Mack Burke of The Tennessean contributed to the article.