It’s 10:02am in Nashville, Tennessee. Thursday December 13th, 2018. My name is Tim Dillard, and if you’re reading this looking for the latest up-to-the-minute coverage of the 2018 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings… then I apologize, this isn’t one of those articles. In fact, if you’re not in the mood to hear mostly incoherent ramblings from a bearded, smaller than life, Minor League free agent… then you may want to go ahead and X right on out of this thing. Just tap the back button on your screen, it’s usually in the corner somewhere. I guess swiping is also an option now depending on your phone.
10:05am Anyway, if you’re still here, please lower your expectations a bit. Like I mentioned earlier my name is Tim Dillard. I’ve been pitching in professional baseball for 16 years. To answer the question you’re currently thinking: the hardest pitch I ever threw was 97 miles per hour. And to answer your next question: yes, Chase Utley DID almost hit it through the right-centerfield wall. (no more questions)
10:07am My first season was back in 2003, and I used phone cards to call my parents. Nowadays I have my own phone, and a website, a podcast, a twitter, and occasionally write for MLB Trade Rumors… when I’m super desperate for cash. Which happens quite often since I’ve played 93.75% of my professional baseball career in the Minor Leagues. This percentage could be wrong however, it’s been a while since I was graded in the math department. (It was a C in college algebra BTW… but I’m not here to brag)
10:11am Actually, the only reason I decided to write anything today was because the Winter Meetings have been plastered all over MLB Network this week, and it made me think about the time I snuck into the 2015 Winter Meetings in Nashville.
10:12m I always wondered what went on at MLB’s Winter Meetings, but never had much desire to attend. It appeared to be more for sports agents, sports writers, and General Managers… and the only players I ever heard about attending were the guys signing million dollar deals or the guys meeting up with their agent person for a free dinner.
10:14am But during the 2015 off-season I found myself right in the middle of the event. I was once again a Minor League free agent… which is just a fancy word for unemployed. And if you’re still looking for a job when mid-December rolls around… trepidation creeps in. (fancy word for panic) Every year it gets more and more difficult for older Four-A guys like myself to find places to play. (Four-A is the term for the group of crusty ball players caught in the web between Triple-A and The Show)
10:17am So by the time the December Meetings rolled around, I had already called, texted, emailed, twittered, Facebook stalked, smoke signaled, and Game of Thrones raven messaged literally everyone I knew looking for a Minor League spring training invite.
10:21am I contacted (including… but not limited to) General Managers, assistant GM’s, managers, coaches, coordinators, scouts, farm directors, field coordinators, clubhouse personnel, statisticians, bat boys, and at least 2 mascots. Unfortunately, I received nothing but crickets.
10:23am Around the moment I was filling out my Rodan+Fields application so I could sell stuff to my friends… my parents called me. My dad, former Major League infielder, former Minor League coach, and STILL current role model, told me to try one more thing… a last attempt. He spoke of a tradition. A tradition that has seemingly faded away in the age of technology. The dying art of a handshake at the MLB Winter Meetings.
10:28am As the story goes, the Winter Meetings was once a place where players could see organizational decision-makers face to face, and ask for a job. A situation where people who love the game too much to give it up, could “randomly” bump into baseball executives. So that’s what I did. Uninvited and determined, I walked into Major League Baseball’s 2015 Winter Meetings with coffee… and a handful of homemade business cards that read: “Tim Dillard RHP” (right-handed pitcher)
10:34am The massive indoor resort was filled with people from every realm of the baseball universe. A circus complete with press conferences, interviews, speeches, tv shows, and award ceremonies. All of which could be accessed with proper credentials… I had no such credentials, so I just walked around.
10:36am After parading for an hour, I decided to stand at a strategically positioned walkway. (between the Media Area, hotel rooms, and Starbucks of course) And so for the next 6 hours I shook many new hands, hugged many old friends, and handed out many RHP cards. The first person I saw was my former teammate Gabe Kapler! At the time he was with the Dodgers, but now he’s the Phillies manager. He asked me what I’ve been doing after all these years, and I told him I was still pitching. “Still?” he said. Right after him I saw my former manager Ned Yost! He was fresh off a World Series Title with the Royals and thought it would be the perfect time to ask him for a job. After a big hug he said, “Sorry Timmy, I don’t handle the hiring of Minor League coaches.”
10:41am The next day I stood in the same spot for 7 hours. By this time people thought I worked there, and began asking me for directions. I also successfully gave my information to the Cincinnati Reds’ stadium announcer… I thought he was a coach. Minutes later I saw Astros and D’Backs legend Luis Gonzalez! I reminded him that my dad coached him years ago, and that I used to shine his shoes! He was very cool and friendly until I divulged how I once saw him and tried to get his attention by yelling across the parking lot of a Phoenix area pizzeria in 2007. Suddenly he was late for a meeting.
10:47am Day three was more of the same. “Take the left hallway at the top of the escalator, and Starbucks will be on your right.” But after noticing there wasn’t many baseball people walking around, I left my post and went searching. I caught wind of some Farm Directors talking with Minor League stadium GM’s over at the MLB Trade Show… unfortunately an Access Pass and name tag was needed to get in. So I went and stole one.
10:49am Once inside the Trade Show, I marveled at all of its wonders. Booths and stands of Louisville Slugger bats, Wilson gloves, Franklin batting gloves, a Racing Sausage, Majestic shirts, bobbleheads, New Era hats, Cheeto-infused popcorn, and a speed pitch booth!
10:50am I couldn’t find anybody wearing a MLB team polo, so I strolled over to the speed pitch area. The nice people there told me that if I can throw one of the three balls 88 miles per hour into the net, I’d win a signed Nolan Ryan baseball! “Give me the ball.” I smirked. These dudes had no idea that I was a professional pitcher, but I knew I was about to go home with a Nolan Ryan ball! After I wiped orange popcorn off my fingers I let it rip. First throw… 74 mph. I was just warming up. Next throw… 81 mph. “Oh crap!” I thought. The final pitch I threw with everything I had… 84 mph. (I never wanted a DeLorean so bad in my life)
10:54am Discouraged by my throwing performance and the 20 hours I had spent standing over the last 3 days… it was time for me to go home. Arguably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my 13 seasons up to that point. Even more difficult than the time I tried to make pitches on a mound in Mexico while toeing a buried cinder block.
10:56am THEN! Just minutes after the MLB Rule 5 Draft had concluded and my feet heading toward the exit, I heard my name! Milwaukee Brewers Farm Director Tom Flanagan was flagging me down, and telling me the Rule 5 Draft had possibly opened up an opportunity for me! We shook hands… a week later I was a Brewer.
10:58am Currently I’m a free agent once again (for the 10th time) and would have loved to revisit the Winter Meetings, but wasn’t able to make it over to Las Vegas. Instead I’ve been intensely watching the TV to see which team is the most desperate for pitching.
11:00am Oh man gotta go! The Rule 5 Draft is coming on… never know!
To Be Concluded…