BY MARK BEASON
Just like thoroughbreds are bred to run fast, Tim Dillard is genetically geared to play baseball.
He's the youngest son of former Major League player Steve Dillard and the family resemblance is obvious. Like his father, Tim is making a name for himself on the baseball diamond, as he plays a key role in Itawamba Community College's berth in the NJCAA Division II World Series.
Steve spent eight years in the big leagues, playing with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers. Although Steve was mainly a middle infielder, Tim's making his mark on the mound and behind the plate.
“My dad always said the fastest way to the big leagues was to be a switch-hitting catcher,” Tim said. “So once I started playing baseball that's what I tried to do.”
Even though Tim swings chiefly from the right side, he's picked up another craft along the way that could push him in the majors.
He's developed into a sidearm pitcher, with a 96 mph fastball and baseball savvy instilled by his father.
One look at the stat sheet and you can see his success. He's 10-0 on the mound this year, with a 1.83 ERA. His 73 strikeouts and six complete games led the team.
Steve was a .243 hitter durings his big league career and isn't sure he wants to step in against his son.
“He'd get in my kichen pretty good,” he said. “With his motion, his ball tails in on right-handed hitters.”
He's only pitched 69 innings, starting the season off as a closer and also leads the squad with five saves. At the plate he's having a good year too, hitting 3.18 with five homers and 25 RBI's.
Midway through the season, Itawamba coach Rick Collier inserted him in the starting rotation and he was there for good.
“I think just about any pitcher will tell you that they want to be a starter,” Tim said. “John Smoltz is the best closer in the game and even he says he'd rather be remembered as a starter.”
Tim didn't have much choice on whether he wanted to be a baseball player or not. He tagged on the shirt tails of his two older brothers, Jeff and Andy.
Whether it was backyard ball games or playing with older kids in little league, Tim says he was always fighting to keep up.
“I've always played with older kids” he said. “Looking back I think that helped me as much as anything. Playing with the older kids made me work that much harder just to keep up.”
Tim still seems to be following his brothers around, with both Jeff and Andy with records at Itawamba. Andy is a senior this season at Delta State, earning All-America honors last year.
“When we were growing up, we were always playing ball somewhere,” Tim said. “I remember when we were living in Florida we had this great field in our backyard with orange trees for a fence. We kind of outgrew the backyard pretty quick.”
Like most fathers, Steve taught his boys how to hit, throw and catch. But most kids didn't have a Major League player sharing knowledge and handing out the pointers.
All those little tips are starting to pay off.
Collier says with Tim's baseball backgroup it makes him easy to coach. Along with his strong right arm, knowledge is one of his biggest assets.
“Just from having been around it his whole life Tim really knows and understands the game,” Collier said. “He doesn't just go out there and play, he studies the game and understands how it's supposed to be played.”
Even now Tim says he gets fatherly advice. Sometimes it's dissecting how a certain game went, or making adjustments in a game.
“There are times when I'm in the on deck circle and I find him in the stands and he gives me some hand signals,” Tim said. “Even when I'm in the box hitting I'll hear him from the stands telling me to hit it back up the middle or something.”
Following dad's footsteps
Tim just doesn't want play baseball like his dad, he wants to making a living at the game, too.
After a stellar career at Saltillo High, Tim was drafted in the 12th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. Although he was close to signing a pro contract, going to Itawamba has been the right decision, he said.
“I was kind of disappointed at first,” Tim said. “But my parents thought I'd be better off going to college and maturing. Looking back it was the right thing to do.”
His freshman year with the Indians was marred by injuries and he didn't get much playing time. Despite being on the bench most of the season, the Brewers took him again, this time in the 34th round.
Like his father, Tim is looking to continue his career at Ole Miss, signing this past fall with the Rebels.
But when the Major League draft rolls around in June, don't be surprised to see him getting another shot at fulfilling a dream.
“I think any normal kid wants to play in the big leagues,” he said. “I can't imagine how great it must be playing baseball and getting paid for it.”