TEMPE, Ariz. – Much of Dillon Head’s batting practice session Friday must have felt surreal. The 18-year-old took hacks against former big leaguer Howie Kendrick inside of a big league Spring Training park, set to the backdrop of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech pumping from the speakers.
“I think, obviously, Dr. King was very influential to where we are today and the progress we’ve made throughout, and there's still a long way to go and a lot of things that need to change,” Kendrick said. “I think it’s truly a blessing to be able to see these kids come out and play this game with the freedom that they want to play it with, without the strife.”
Head, a longtime participant in MLB’s Breakthrough Series, was one of more than 80 players on hand for drills, workouts and guest speaker sessions during the 2023 MLB DREAM Series at Tempe Diablo Stadium (spring home to the Los Angeles Angels) over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
“I was pumped up,” Head said of being invited. “Being in this system since I was in seventh grade, this being my last year and being able to come back one more time … a lot of these guys, I have relationships with that will last forever.”
Focused just as much on the betterment of the athlete off the field, the annual DREAM Series drew quite a crowd of alumni, all of whom were in attendance to teach tips and tricks of the trade. Reds pitcher Hunter Greene -- a former DREAM Series participant in his own right -- spoke with dozens of players, while the coaching staff featured a cadre of former big leaguers.
Developed with the intent of providing additional exposure to young players -- particularly those in the Black and Latino communities -- nationwide, the DREAM Series teems with a thirst to educate the next wave of baseball talent on those who paved the way in ways that go beyond on-field accolades. It’s baseball with bat, ball and glove by day, but life education once the Arizona sun sets.
“They’re definitely getting the full shebang,” said LaTroy Hawkins, who is serving as a DREAM Series coach with 21 seasons of big league experience in hand. “A lot of people just see the [final product] of what we’ve done on the field. [MLB vice president of baseball development] Del Matthews and [MLB chief development officer] Tony Reagins and Jerry Manuel have done a great job making it more than just about between the white lines; how to be a professional, how to get your work in, how to be responsible, how to treat people around you.”
Head (No. 40 overall) is one of three players at this year’s DREAM Series who rank among the Top 100 Draft prospects in the 2023 class. Heralded as having a hit/speed combo that could vault him into the first round come July, Head is entering his senior season at Homewood-Flossmoor HS in Flossmoor, Ill., with the approach of continuing to refine all facets of his game.
“What I look forward to is coming here and really picking the brains of coaches as far as hitting -- drills, routines to pick up,” Head said. “Just being a great hitter, hitting the ball to all sides of the field.”
But for all of the attention that Head has garnered for his offense, it’s his work with the glove that he takes the most pride in. The Clemson commit has dubbed center field the “no fly zone,” the area where he gets to utilize his plus fielding grade (60, on a 20-80 scale) to his advantage. Head expressed a belief that his ability to cover the outfield grass is unparalleled.
Head won’t have to look far for pointers when it comes to patrolling center field, with four-time Gold Glove winner Marquis Grissom a part of the top-tier coaching staff organized by the DREAM Series. Grissom has already worked with the youngster on his routes to the ball and knowledge of how varying playing surfaces can affect overall defense.
“Really good player, a lot of speed,” Kendrick said of Head. “He can play the game and I like the way he goes about it. He’s a hard worker.”
There will be no scoreboard, no top or bottom half of an inning for Head or any other of the prospects in the upcoming quartet of Draft classes during the immersive five-day experience. No wins will be accrued on the diamond -- those are saved for events that go beyond a ball field’s dimensions.
“I love the name ‘DREAM,’ because all of us were dreamers at one point and I still dream today,” Kendrick said. “I want you to dream to be better than me or better than those guys [of the past] were, and I think that’s what’s key here.”
“I’m not about winning games,” Hawkins said of his role at the event. “If I cater to you, it’s going to be about winning the game of life.”