PHOENIX – Tim Dillard is a relief pitcher who has spent most of his 15-year professional baseball career in the minor leagues. At 33, he's participating in Brewers Spring Training – "for some reason, they keep slapping a jersey on me" – with little chance of making the big-league club, but still plenty of effort, optimism, wisdom and hilarity for anyone lucky enough to interact with him.
Dillard, who has spent parts of four seasons in Milwaukee, owns a 1-4 record with a 4.70 ERA in 84 major-league innings (he's thrown 1,190 innings in the minors). Drafted originally as a catcher by the Brewers in 2002, he made his debut with the team six years later and was on both the 2008 and 2011 squads that made the playoffs. Dillard has been granted free agency, and then signed again as a free agent, four times by the Brewers, and is currently in camp on a minor-league contract.
Last September, Dillard was called up to Milwaukee from Triple-A to join the organization's social media team, having become more well-known for his entertaining Twitter account, Dubsmash videos, broadcast stints and impressions than his pitching. While it wasn't how he'd prefer being called up, the decision signaled the charismatic veteran's willingness to exploring other, non-baseball opportunities.
Dillard, who's married with three young children, says he's just a "rule-follower" but has an easygoing, lighthearted and open-to-anything spirit. Outside Maryvale Baseball Park recently, he gave his impressions of the upcoming Brewers season.
After our split sides stopped hurting, OnMilwaukee spoke to Dillard about his unique journey, advice for young players, best Milwaukee memories, life after baseball and, eventually, coming to terms with not being famous enough to just say "next question" during an interview.
OnMilwaukee: So what are you doing out here, man?
Tim Dillard: (laughs) You know, I guess when you start off playing, you never know how long or what you are going to do. I even said it years ago when I was in college, if I were ever to play pro ball, I would want to play for one team. Like Ryne Sandberg, Cal Ripken, there’s just something special about that.
Never had any ties to the Brewers, as far as I know, but I got drafted twice by them and ended up signing with them. I was with them for 10 years straight and then they let me go to free agency and I went to a bunch of places, but then they brought me back that same year, and then they brought me back again the next year, and then they brought me back again the next year ...
They like to do that with relievers, you, K-Rod …
Dillard: Yeah, I'm just like, "Hey, man, if you need someone to throw, I can do it." I think later on they were finally like, well ... they know that I'm not gonna hurt anybody on the team. I'm not going to be a jerk in the clubhouse and stuff like that. I think they’ve really bought into that, and, I don't know, with all the social media stuff going on …
You’re a rock star.
Yeah, well, I tell them, "Listen, I'm not trying to take away from what other people are trying to do," and they don't mind it. I've actually had, several times, guys come up who’ve been like, "Hey, I loved the video this morning." I'm like, we filmed a guy in a hot tub …
Are you talking about other players?
No, I'm talking about personnel, like coaches and some of the higher-up executive people.
I wanted to ask about that because in pro sports you often hear the word "distraction" and there’s this negative connotation with guys goofing around. But this clubhouse seems pretty loose, especially for a young team. Is that a good thing?
You need somebody around who is going to help them, let them know it's OK to goof off and also when to goof off. We were talking recently, and we do a lot of the mental-side-of-the-games conversations, and one of the things is that you can't stay locked in for eight hours. It's really hard to stay locked in for three hours, you know?
So I talk to guys in the pen, and I'm like, "Hey, watch the game, pay attention, but have a good time, enjoy what you are doing, don't be so focused on what is going on that you can't function and you don't get to enjoy it." It's fun pitching, but when you're on the mound, you are not out there goofing off. You lock in quick, you get done with what you are supposed to do and then after the game, it's over, good or bad, and get ready for the next day.
But some guys, especially me when I was younger, I was very stressed out, just "What if I get in there?" And I'd be stressed the entire time, then I wouldn't pitch and after the game I would be like, Why am I so exhausted? I didn't do anything. So I think having people around to kind of let them know it's OK, in a safe way – because you don't want people, like, climbing the fence five minutes before a game – in a controlled way. From what I've heard about Joba Chamberlain, he's pretty awesome with that.
You were with the Brewers when they basically broke their quarter-century slump of terrible baseball. Especially with that 2011 team, what are some of your best memories of being a big-league pitcher in Milwaukee?
I mean, during those times, there was a lot of fan love. And, you know, I was not a premier guy at all, but the players I witnessed were pretty amazing – Corey Hart, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun. Seeing and playing with those guys while they were in their prime and watching what they did in the clubhouse, what they did in their workouts and what they did to stay healthy and all that. I mean, I was an observer.
I always tell players, if I’m giving some young guys some wisdom, it's not really me, it’s not coming from me. I can say, "One time I saw Ben Sheets do this" or "I heard K-Rod talk about this." So it has nothing to do with me. I'm just an observer, and luckily the Lord has given me the ability to observe and pay attention. I’m usually good at that.
Do you have any particularly fond memories from that 2011 season?
Yeah, I mean, Braun's home run. And he did it in 2008, too. I just remember going crazy. Sometimes you see it on TV, you see everyone celebrating when the team wins and it's really cool, but when you are actually out there and you've got grown men that are that excited, it's just inspiring.
You are in the middle of it and you don't know how you are going to react, and everyone is jumping up and down and you see guys and you’re just like, "Six months ago, this is what we talked about, two years ago this is what we were working towards and five years ago we did that other thing," and immediately everyone comes together and, I don't know, you just build each other up. That's what I got; all of that packed into, like, one second. It just happened and that's the way it was.
Yesterday you texted me, "Are we playing at home today?" and that was hilarious, but then you ended up getting into the major-league game. You did some social media stuff with the team last year but you’re also still pitching in camp, obviously. What’s your role? What are you hoping to accomplish?
Yeah, it’s strange, the social media thing. That was really cool, getting called up in September last year. I’ve have rather gone up and pitched, but the first thing when I got there – because, you know, it had to be approved by Craig, so first thing I did was I went and saw Counsell and said, "Hey I appreciate you letting me do this, but at the same token, I want you to know that I want to pitch in the big leagues."
So if nothing else, even if I'm not very funny on the social media thing and this whole project bombs, I was like, at least I get in front of you and let you know that I want to play and my name can get stuck in your head. And hopefully that led to my job here. You remember that "Seinfeld" episode, it was like, "Co-stanza," that's what I feel like, like I'm whispering in these guys' ears, "Dill-ard. Dill-ard." Like they can’t get rid of me.
I don't know, right now I'm in minor-league camp, but they keep bringing me over to the big-league side to get looks, and I've actually gotten to pitch a little bit this year. I don't know; you don't know what can happen. I've talked to some guys and they are like, "Well there are so many pitchers here."
Yeah, I know, everyone starts out with a lot of pitchers, and you don't know what can happen, that’s baseball. I know people are like, "I can’t believe that guy played in the big leagues, or I cannot believe that guy is still in the big leagues, or how come this guy didn't get called up?" And there’s a lot of those things that happen, but it has nothing to do with what we are doing right now.
You show up, you are ready to play and if you get the call, you get the call. You can’t control any of that, and worrying about any of it is only gonna make it worse and make you paranoid. That's how I'm trying to influence the younger guys, like, here, let me save you five years of problems, you know, of mental or physical pain.
And some of these young guys are going over and they don't know how to perceive things. It’s like, how to you take care of yourself? How do you want to be seen as a player? Do you want to be a guy who shows up late, or do you want to be early? You know, we actually talked about this during stretch today.
The reason why they do some of the things they do is because they want you there, they want you at the field, they’re going to teach you responsibility, so that in the big leagues they know they can rely on you. That's really all it is. They are building that foundation now, and so I'm letting them know, "Don't waste a day. Build that foundation now." And with me, I just keep trucking along. As long as I have a jersey I'm going to keep throwing like I have a chance.
What are your favorite places to go when you’re in Milwaukee?
Kopp’s. Number one is Kopp’s. When I’m staying overnight, I usually do Toppers, if I don't go out to eat somewhere – a lot of people don't know about Toppers. Let's see, Carnevor is real big; you'll always see some Brewers guys in there, even if it's not during the season. There was a place I went to, and I can’t remember the name of it. It's right next to The Pfister – we go to The Pfister all the time, too – it says on the menu they have meat, cheese, and beer.
Yeah, really good. That's what they promised: meat, cheese and beer, and it was pretty good (laughs)!
What do you get when you go to Kopp’s?
Just whatever the flavor of the day is. They have their own app, and that's amazing. It’s on my phone and I'm like, "Why is this Kopp's app on my phone?" But in the off chance I find myself in Milwaukee, I’m ready. I took some guys in January; I picked them up at the airport for Brewers On Deck, took them there and we just sat there and ate. I was like, "Are you guys in a hurry?" And they were like, "No way!" We just ate in front of the camera.
You have three young kids, you’re out here playing baseball, but also doing a lot of these other things that are really popular. Do you think about different opportunities, three, four, five years down the road, and transitioning into anything?
I used to. I used to, especially after the 2012 season, I couldn't find a job, so I thought maybe I'll never play again – that's the kind of stuff I had to face five years ago. I don't know what the future holds, but for some reason they keep slapping a jersey on me. But if it’s over tomorrow and I’ve gotta coach, then great, I would love to coach. I feel like I'm kind of doing that in some aspects now, not undermining anybody, but people ask advice and I don't mind giving my opinion, like most people (laughs).
But I don’t know, I think broadcasting would be fun. But yeah, you know, my kids are getting older and I want to be near them. I feel like we don’t want to go move anywhere. We live in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. And we like our area, we love our friends. We don't know what the future holds, I'd like to stay there. If we are supposed to move or go somewhere else, we’ll do that, but for the most part, I’d like to live there and go and travel and broadcast, or, you know shoot videos and get paid for it. I don't care (laughs).
When I told my friends I was coming down for spring training and doing a thing with you, they thought that was a lot cooler than seeing the games or being in the clubhouse, talking to Ryan Braun or something.
Well, with Braun, you are going to get the perfect answers. He's a well-oiled machine. They used to give classes years ago – I don't think they do it anymore – but they used to give classes on, like, what to say, how to say it and all that. I forgot what it was, the 3 R's or the 3 H's or something? I don't know, I can’t remember. It seems like it was supposed to help us remember but, yeah, you’re just kind of like, "Next question."
I was like, "Man that would be so cool," but I'm not important enough to get a press conference so that doesn't really apply to me. Braun's in the limelight. He's awesome, though. When the cameras are off and he's hanging out in the clubhouse. Every time I see him, he's got something else going on.
That's one thing where I think the Brewers sometimes maybe get overlooked or they don't get enough credit for, is they get good guys. Like, I'm not saying that because I've been here. I'm saying because I've been here for so long and I've seen the guys who have come and gone, and the guys that are still here and who they end up hiring, from scouts to guys in the front office to coaching staff to coordinators – they get people who not only love baseball, but they love people, they want to invest in peoples’ lives.
And then they go get players who want to learn. They don't go get delinquents; they go get people that care about baseball, they care about becoming who they are going to be in the future, and (the Brewers) recognize that they are kids. And they’re like, who am I going to be in five years or 10 years? How do you get pointed in that direction? So the Brewers organization, top to bottom, just because I've seen it over the years, it's very human-oriented.
That’s got to be part of the calculus of bringing certain guys in, like in Green Bay with the Packers, how are they going to fit in the area and contribute positively?
You may be the best player, but if you are going to be disruptive everywhere you go, then what's the point? And I think the Brewers have done very well in guarding themselves from that, and I don't know if it’s a purposeful thing, if there's someone at the top going, "This is what we are looking for." But I have to think that there is. It's not a coincidence. I've heard guys on other teams, six-year free agents come over, and I get to know them and I'm like, "I'll tell you why you’re here: You’re a good player but you’re a good dude, too."
I've seen that, you know? And if you come here and you are not a team-oriented-type guy or you are not a guy who cares that much, then maybe you don't stick around as long. Not in a mean way, but in a "Hey we’re willing to go get somebody else." And so I'm a rule-follower, you know? I just follow the rules (laughs), and I’m still here.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.