Dillard is riding high

altillo senior Tim Dillard has got to be living the high-life of high school baseball right now.

He is the starting catcher and one of the top pitchers for one of the most consistent high school programs in Northeast Mississippi.

The youngest of three brothers, with the older two having already significantly contributed to the baseball success at Saltillo.

And, the son a former major league player and minor league manager who grew up in Saltillo and starred at the college level at Ole Miss.

"Baseball has been in my life as far back as I can remember," said Dillard, whose Tigers are currently in second place in Division 1-3A and ranked No. 4 in the first Daily Journal Large School Poll. "I guess I have two key roles on this team - pitching and catching."

When father Steve Dillard was managing minor league teams in Florida, the family had a little league field in the back yard. A real field that had a pitchers mound, infield, and backstop behind the plate.

The only thing lacking was an outfield fence, that would have run into an orange grove if it had been put up.

So with Tim Dillard's background, no wonder he is batting .537 with 23 RBIs and 26 runs scored. Back that up with only two strikeouts in 54 official at bats.

"He is definitely hitting the ball better than last year," Satlillo coach Johnny Bolen said. "He's worked with weights since last season, and really has some pop on the ball.

"And he's posting these good numbers despite not getting many pitches to hit. Despite that, he's been pretty patient at the plate, with most of his hits to the opposite field.

"If the people we play do not know about him before the game, they know after the first couple of times he bats."

And as with most good athletic baseball players, Dillard also pitches. His numbers there are also impressive with a 1.56 ERA and with 44 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched.

"He's got some real ability and his ball moves real well," Bolen said. "He can pitch at the next level.

"But he wants to play everyday because he's just such a competitor."

"I like catching because you're in on every play," Dillard said. "I don't like to sit, and with catching, it's never boring."

With such a deep feeling for baseball, it can never be boring talking the game with a father who has the major league experience of Steve Dillard.

"As far as I'm concerned, he knows everything about the game," said Dillard of his father. "We can be watching TV and I'll ask him about the game we just played, and he'll tell me everything that happened during the game.

"It's amazing."

"Steve has been a class act as the father of a player," Bolen said. "If I bring up the subject, he'll talk about any part of baseball, but otherwise he just enjoys his sons playing."

Tim's older brother, Andy, is playing baseball at Itawamba Community college, while the oldest brother, Jeff, is at Mississippi State taking classes in aeronautical engineering.

Jeff Dillard has played minor league ball, including with the minor league team Steve Dillard coached for a while in Jackson, but is currently rehabbing a knee injury suffered last season.

"I'll probably go to ICC and play at least one year, maybe two," Andy Dillard said. "My ultimate goal is to play major league baseball.

"I'm going to be there."

With only one loss in 1-3A play, Saltillo has a foothold on second place and a playoff spot currently.

Besides Dillard, Bolen credits the offensive production of cleanup hitter Luke May for a significant portion of the team's success. Plus, Bolen feels that the offensive emergence of May has contributed to Dillard's success in 2001, with teams not being able to pitch around the youngest Dillard like they hoped to.

Bolen also points to the top two hitters in the Tigers' lineup - Zach Gray and jeremy Shields - for their ability to get on base so that Dillard and May can produce.

"Of course there are tough teams in our division like Ripley, New Albany and Kossuth," Bolen said. "If we win out (in the division), we're going to there in the playoffs.

"We've just got to take care of our business."

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