NASHVILLE • Baseball has for decades been called a metaphor for life, images perhaps mythologized and cultivated by powerful films like “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Natural” and many more.
But former Saltillo High School and Itawamba Community College star Tim Dillard makes a different comparison.
On a recent sunny afternoon at First Tennessee Park, home of the Texas Rangers’ Class AAA affiliate, the 36-year-old Nashville Sounds pitcher shared his philosophy on life, family, and his sport – suggesting that a roller coaster thrill ride is the perfect metaphor for a career in baseball, and using the ups-and-downs of his own 16-year career to hammer home the viewpoint.
“My career’s just been very strange … but I’ve always been like that, kind of an anomaly, something very rare like a unicorn – or a Sasquatch, maybe, in my case with the beard,” he says jovially. “But that’s just everyone’s path. It’s just a metaphor for life. Everybody wishes they’d been something different or gotten somewhere or done something, but if you’re stuck on what could have happened, it takes away from what you’re doing at the moment.
“And I would say the secret to success in baseball is finding joy in every moment. But that’s really for life. I try to find the joy in every moment, even the bad moments. I don’t believe in chance or anything like that. I believe that things happen for a reason, good and bad. It’s hard to deal with. You can’t change any of that stuff; it’s just how you deal with it.”
And that’s the roller coaster message he has for younger teammates and anyone else willing to pay attention.
He’s been playing professionally since 2003, almost all spent toiling in the minor leagues. In those 16 seasons, he has made four stints to the majors from 2008-12 with a total of 73 games played, and a combined 1-4 record. In the minors, the sidearm right-hander has a combined 91-68 record. This season in Nashville, he’s sporting a 7-8 record with 122.1 innings pitched – nearly twice as many innings as any other pitcher on the staff.
“I tell them all the time, I say, ‘You can’t control the roller coaster of baseball. You can go out there as a pitcher and do everything right, and turn around and you’ve given up 10 hits and given up 15 runs. You can do everything wrong and get people out. That’s really not in your control as much as you think. … It’s not controlling the roller coaster, it’s about what you do while you’re on it.”
Asked how he’d rate his career, the free-wheeling yet thoughtful Dillard didn’t hesitate.
“I have to count it as a success even though I’ve been in the minor leagues for most of my career. It has to be a success because I can’t tell my wife that it was completely pointless, you know, or I was a failure,” he laughs again. “But as you get older you measure success in different ways. I would love to have 10 years in the big leagues like pretty much everybody else, but that wasn’t my path.”
Dillard called his baseball path “different,” one that carried him to Mexico and Venezuela as well as Independent League stints.
This is his second tour of duty in a Nashville uniform, playing for the Sounds from 2007-14 with the Brewers’ organization before spending the last four seasons with Colorado Springs. This is his first year back playing for Nashville with the Rangers – a move he’s especially grateful for since he, wife Erin and their three children call Music City home.
And, Dillard, says he doesn’t know when the ride will end.
“I have no idea. I’m on borrowed time anyway. I thought I was done, like, I don’t know, like seven or eight years ago,” Dillard says candidly. “Every offseason, I try to find new careers, new things to do.
“Then there’s baseball. Somebody gives me a baseball job. Teams aren’t going out and hiring a bunch of 30-plus-year-old sidearm relievers,” he laughs again, “but somehow I keep getting a job. So I’m going to keep playing until I can’t find a job. Hopefully the Lord will give me something else to do after that.”
Dillard looks back fondly at his youth in Saltillo, where his parents Steve – a former major league player and coach/manager – and Mary Jane still live, saying those grueling days helped him prepare for the pro grind. He played catcher for both the junior and senior American Legion teams during summers.
“I would say one of my biggest memories from that time was catching about five or six double-headers a week. One day, I’d play a Junior Legion double-header and the next day I’m catching a Senior Legion double-header. Ultimately, it was a crash course in baseball. It showed me how to prepare even at such a young age.”
Dillard is thick-bearded, but certainly not thick-headed – as the moniker of his popular Instagram account @DimTillard – might suggest (he’s got more than 46,000 followers).
And then in a moment of self-awareness, he laughs and adds:
“I’m sounding too profound. I’m not this profound.”