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Veteran Tim Dillard a key piece of the 'family' for the Sky Sox

June 10, 2017 Updated: June 11, 2017 at 10:21 am
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Pitcher Tim Dillard and the rest of the Sky Sox team stands for the National Anthem before the start of their season opener against Omaha Thursday, April 6, 2017, at Security Service Field in Colorado Springs, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Tim Dillard's viral videos have built him into something of a celebrity.

But in the Sky Sox clubhouse on Tuesday, Dillard was also a selfless teammate - offering to return to the mound the day after tossing 67 pitches. He was a dad, playing pingpong with his son. He was a prankster, running through signs behind a teammate conducting an interview.

It's tough to pin one label on Dillard. And that's where his value lies.

"To me, I've started to measure success in relationships," Dillard said. "It's who you come in contact with. It doesn't matter if it's grounds crew or if it's clubhouse guys. I mean, I know people all across baseball, all across this league for sure. But they leave this league and go different places. So next thing you know, you're a part of this baseball family and this baseball network. To me, that's really what it's about."

Of course, none of this would be printed in the sports section if Dillard - who has logged four stints in the majors - wasn't still a capable pitcher.

"There's two parts to Dillard," Colorado Springs Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet said. "The part that's in the clubhouse and everything, like he's playing pingpong right there. He keeps this clubhouse loose. He keeps everybody focused. He's very involved, he's a team leader in this clubhouse. But then there's the other Dillard on the mound. You would think, like, 'Oh, he wouldn't care, or you know,' but he's as fiery as any guy I've gotten to coach."

That's how Dillard has survived in baseball. If he were just a funny guy who makes videos, the Brewers would have ditched him long ago.

But Dillard has a career 3.94 ERA in the minors, and his unique, sidearm delivery makes him an asset for the franchise. For that reason, some of his teammates expect he'll see more time in the big leagues eventually.

"He'll be the first to tell you, he wants to get back into the big leagues and pitch," reliever David Goforth said. "He doesn't want to get to the big leagues and be a social media guy or a reporter or a radio guy. The reasons he's here is, one, he can still pitch and still get guys out, and, two, he wants to get back to the big leagues. He thinks he can, and I think he can."

Dillard has shifted his focus slightly in recent years, though. As he's gotten older, he has taken an interest in helping some of the younger guys around him, too.

An epiphanic moment occurred for Dillard in 2014, when he realized he was 5 or 6 years older than his Double-A teammates.

"It was the first time I ever felt like people were listening," he said. "I mean, I talk a lot, but I don't expect anybody to listen. But in Double-A, I had guys asking really good questions. I had guys that were like, 'Well, what is this like? What is this like? What do you do? How do you prepare?' And I think that as you come up and you're young, you just need to figure out how everything works.

". And if I can save a guy a bad month or a long year or two years until they figure something out, then good. I just cut down their distance from time, maybe they can go to the big leagues now."

That's how Dillard has begun to value his career. If he put numbers above everything else, his 8.61 ERA this season might keep him awake at night. But Dillard doesn't seem worried.

He's got other things to take care of. That's why he was playing pingpong with his son in the clubhouse. That's why he loves making the videos that have brought him notoriety - and more than 21,000 Twitter followers. It's all a part of building the relationships he values so dearly.

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