MILWAUKEE -- Tim Dillard's 16th season pitching in the Brewers organization was probably his last. After getting outs and laughs in approximately equal parts for so many years, the hurler/humorist signed a Minor League contract with the Rangers on Monday, a deal that includes an invitation to big league camp.Blame
MILWAUKEE -- Tim Dillard's 16th season pitching in the Brewers organization was probably his last. After getting outs and laughs in approximately equal parts for so many years, the hurler/humorist signed a Minor League contract with the Rangers on Monday, a deal that includes an invitation to big league camp.
Blame geography for the end of a colorful era in Brewers history.
Dillard and his wife, Erin, have three children (ages 9, 8 and 3) and live in Nashville, Tenn., which happens to be home of Texas' Triple-A team beginning next season after a round of affiliate musical chairs this fall. Dillard, 35, pitched there from 2007-14, when the Brewers were based there, and so fell in love with the Music City that he moved there permanently. Now he gets to pitch at home once again.
"I can sleep in my own bed and make my kids' lunches before school," he said. "That's a pretty attractive offer."
More importantly, he gets to keep pitching. Dillard may not have gotten that opportunity with the Brewers, whose Triple-A team is moving from Colorado Springs, Colo., to San Antonio. With a return to sea level, the hope is that there will be fewer of the lopsided games characteristic of Colorado Springs, in which Dillard was often called upon to cover tough innings. In doing so, he spared younger prospects from the kind of outings that can be counterproductive to player development.
"Dilly was and is a big part of team in clubhouse, dugout, bullpen and on the field," tweeted Milwaukee's Triple-A manager, Rick Sweet. "He is a leader and tremendous teammate."
In other words, Dillard's impact on the organization wasn't reflected in his ERA.
The Brewers twice drafted Dillard, whose father, Steve, played parts of eight seasons in the Majors as an infielder. Milwaukee took his son in the 15th round in 2001 out of high school in Mississippi, and again in the 34th round in '02 as a draft-and-follow after Dillard went to junior college.
Dillard signed the following spring, went to Rookie-level Arizona and began a quick trip up Milwaukee's Minor League chain. He made it to Triple-A in less than four years and earned a spot in the Arizona Fall League in 2007 before the Brewers promoted him to the Majors in '08, the season the franchise snapped its 26-year postseason drought by winning the National League Wild Card.
Dillard made the first 13 of his 73 Major League appearances that season. He later converted to a sidearm pitcher and was part of the Brewers' next playoff team in 2011, posting a 4.08 ERA, a 3.13 FIP and 8.5 strikeouts per nine over 28 2/3 innings. Dillard made 34 more Major League appearances in '12, but has been in the Minors since.
In more recent years, Dillard's cult following exploded via social media. He hosts a podcast with a group of friends, including Cubs utility man (and Nashville neighbor) Benjamin Zobrist, and shows his wit while pulling back the curtain on life in the Minor Leagues via a series of funny videos that Dillard produces himself. They often feature his teammates, his kids or Zobrist.
Twice since Dillard threw his last Major League pitch, the Brewers made him an honorary September callup, first with a social media stint in 2016 that began with a "Saturday Night Live" spoof featuring general manager David Stearns cleaning tables in the staff dining room. This year, he worked for Fox Sports Wisconsin during Milwaukee's pennant push.
Once his playing career ends, it appears there is mutual interest in bringing Dillard back to the Brewers in some capacity, perhaps in broadcasting.
For now, they are rooting for him to succeed on the mound with Texas.
"We were fortunate to have Tim with the Brewers organization since he entered professional baseball, and he always represented himself and the Brewers very well," said farm director Tom Flanagan. "We wish him nothing but the best as he continues his playing career."
Said Dillard: "A month went by after the season and I really didn't have anything, so I called Tom and talked to him a little bit, and he said he really didn't have anything for me this year. I think he felt bad. Actually, I think he was concerned because I hadn't been blowing up his phone with 20 missed calls a day. Poor guy. I told him, 'No, I'm fine.' … The Rangers came calling. They said they follow me on social media, so my first question was, 'What am I going to be doing?' They said, 'You're going to pitch.'"
Dillard admitted it would be odd to start anew in a different organization.
"I'm not very good at names, but I know every name in one organization and none in any other organization," Dillard said.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Dillard knows Vinny Rottino, a former Milwaukee teammate who is now working as a Rangers scout, and who texted after the World Series to plant in Dillard's mind the idea of coming to Texas. Dillard also knows the Rangers' Triple-A pitching coach, Brian Shouse, another former Brewers teammate who pitched in the Majors past his 41st birthday. Dillard remembers being in the clubhouse when the Brewers celebrated Shouse's 40th birthday in 2008. Among his gifts was an inflatable walker.
"I'm going to come in [to Rangers camp], lay low and know I'm the new guy," Dillard said. "Most of these guys should know who I am. I helped get a lot of them to the big leagues over the years. They owe me one."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.