“Dog And A Beer”

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by @DimTillard

  • Watching a baseball game is exciting.
  • But watching baseball AND dipping a giant hot dog in nacho cheese, while cracking peanuts, and not spilling a drop of beer?  Well now that makes the game even better!
  • Baseball food is special, and there’s a special place in my heart for it. (that place is probably my arteries)  I love it!  I think it should be it’s own food category, like Mexican food, pasta, Pad Thai, or vegetables.
  • Growing up with a dad as a Minor League coach, baseball park food was all around.

Cracker Jack.  Cracker Jacks scream baseball.  I mean it’s part of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” for typing out loud!  And yes I know the “prize” has gotten lamer and lamer over the years, resulting to just a small sticker.  However, years ago the prizes were pretty sweet.  You’d tear open a box and be welcomed by a unique knick-knack, or trinket, or maybe find a coin, a compass, or a whistle.  All collectable, and all memorable! (stupid choking hazards)

Hot Dogs.  $0.50 Hot Dog Nights are some of my favorite nights.  My first was in South Bend, Indiana in 1988.  I had saved up my shoeshine money for just such an occasion.  Several dollars later I was delightfully nauseous! (and surrounded by crumpled tin foil)

Peanuts!  THE original ballpark food that never gets old.  They’re a staple of concession stands all over the country.  As a player, peanuts are easily acquired from an eager fan or vendor for the price of a baseball. (and a most sought after bullpen item during extra-inning ballgames)

MLB Sundae Helmets.  A small plastic helmet filled with ice cream?  Genius.  By the end of 1992 I had eaten a lot of ice cream to find ALL those mini helmets.  I had every Major League team!  Then in 1993 the Marlins and Rockies messed that up.

Twinkie?  One of my top eleven days on earth came in 1994.  Twinkie Night was at the ballpark!  In all it’s glory, it’s exactly what you’d think… ALL you can eat Twinkies!  I did.  I ate all I could eat.  And since Twinkies aren’t an everyday ballpark food, like a squirrel, I hoarded and stored some in the clubhouse. (there may STILL be some hidden somewhere)

Super Ropes.  34 satisfying inches of red licorice!  Outside of a baseball field, I’m not sure I’d want to wrangle with almost 3 feet of candy.  But inside a baseball field, it’s socially acceptable!  This delicious ballpark treat can also easily fit under a team jacket in a dugout or bullpen. (discrete nibbles through the collar or sleeve work best)

These days, stadiums all over the country have put their own wonderful twist on unique and scrumptious ballpark food.  Many blog articles can attest to this:  Best Baseball Stadium FoodInsane Stadium FoodsUnreal Foods; Food Fight;  NOW My TURN!

My (should be) INVENTED Ballpark Foods:

  • Three-Base Buffet:  A tray of 18 doughnut holes equipped with 3 separate dipping compartments filled with frosting, chocolate, and sprinkles.  (served with a wax-paper glove for no-mess eating)
  • The Pop-Up:  An extra large souvenir team cup filled with fresh popcorn, and topped with bacon and chocolate.  Not for the faint of heart.  (allows for one-handed consumption)
  • The Basebrat Glove:  A circular tray of 5 brats that form a glove.  With sauerkraut acting as the “glove’s” webbing.  And in the center of this masterpiece, beer sauce and brown mustard dipping cups.  (ideal for communal dining)
  • The Athletic Cup-O-Weinies:  A pretzel bowl filled with mini hot dogs and smothered in nacho cheese.  Accompanied with a baseball bat shaped toothpick to stab and chomp.

 “If you build it, they will come.”



“The Left-Field Lie”

 @DimTillard pic 28

by @DimTillard

  • I think something that makes baseball so intriguing for kids, is the cool EQUIPMENT.  And how each piece serves a specific purpose in the game.  At least that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it.
  • In basketball you get a jersey.  In football you have pads and a helmet.  Soccer has… goals I guess.
  • But baseball has everything: balls, bats, uniforms, cleats, gloves, helmets, eye black, stirrups, belts, hats… Growing up, I used to time myself to see how fast I could get my catching gear on and off. (nerd alert!)
  • … sunglasses, wristbands, tape, ball-bag, water bottle, batting gloves, pine tar rag, rosin bag, and of course… the athletic supporter. (NOT the cheering kind)

When I was six, I played on the same Little League team as my older brother Andy.  He knew way more about baseball then I did.  And not only did he help me learn baseball, but he also looked out for me.  Like the times he’d sneak me wads of Big League Chew. (mom said “no” to that; and candy cigars)  Or, like the time he had me looking up gullible in the dictionary. (it’s in there)

To my knowledge, my brother never gave me a reason not to trust him.  So I believed what he said on our way to my first game.  Dressed in red jerseys and white pants, we climbed in the car, finished our pre-game banana (no cramps right), and went through the checklist.  Hats… “check”  Gloves… “check”  Cleats… “check”  Cups… “check”.  Suddenly it dawned on me…  “Why do we wear cups when we play?”

Now, I’d like to think my brother was just joking, and what ensued was just a misunderstanding.  But, instead…”What do you think it’s for?  It’s called a cup for a reason.  You’re wearing it down there just in case you have to pee during a game… DUH.”  SOooo apparently, this was a lie.  A lie that has been told from kid to kid for decades.  And it’s still alive and well, thriving on the innocent and trusting souls.

When the game started, I was told to go to left-field.  I couldn’t believe it!  “I’m a real baseball player!”  I thought.  Quickly I realized that not many balls were hit into the outfield.  But I wasn’t going to let that get me down, I stayed focused.  Inning after inning… hustled in, hustled out… (water bottle sip after water bottle sip)… UNTIL the 5th!

Standing in left-field, hands on my knees, staring into the infield, the urge hit.  “Oh man I gotta go.”  I mumbled to myself as my brain searched for a plan.  My uneasiness was soon over taken with reasoning.  “Andy said we could just… pee in the cup right?  I mean, might as well.”  Moments later I felt relief.  The kind of relief you can feel running down your leg turning your white pants yellow.  “3 OUTS!”

(Panic, Panic, Panic)

As I sloshed in from left-field, 3 things were CERTAIN:  Number one… I had just pissed my pants.  Two I hated my brother.  And lastly… the tears in my eyes were ready to come pouring out like urine.  I sprinted right past the team huddle, past the coach, and the dugout.  It was straight to mom!  She was in the small press box above the concession stand.  So I ran behind the old bleachers and whizzed up the stairs.  My mom was the team’s official scorekeeper.  (Urine – 1  Tim – 0)

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”


“March Madness”

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by @DimTillard

  • MINOR League Spring Training is a roller coaster.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s a rookie in his first spring, or a salty veteran who’s lost count, spring training can be tough, but incredibly fun.
  • Every spring is important for a player.  Because each spring training season could be where something ‘clicks’, and it’s off to the Bigs.  For most minor leaguers the pre-season is an amusement park ride that brings exhilaration, stress, and joy.
  • After an offseason filled with family, home, workouts, vacation, relaxation, it’s time… for the CIRCUS.

“Good-bye my LOOOVE!”  The beginning of March means the return of baseball.  And for many players, it means packing up the suitcase they’ll live out of for the next 6 months.  It also means traveling to Florida or Arizona, and leaving behind families, friends, and loved ones.  (and when players fly to spring training, usually there’s a “gamer” glove in the carry-on)

“Got a package people!”  When players walk into the spring training complex, lockers look like the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Boxes upon boxes, with names like, Wilson, Rawlings, Nike, Louisville Slugger.  Boxes filled with spikes, turfs, gloves, bats, BG’s, and catching gear.  Thus begins the, “breaking-in” of the equipment. (this is where guys start wishing they’d spent more time standing in their driveway wearing spikes)  The first week of practice is full of SHIN-SPLINTS, (sunblock), (baby powder) and “New glove!” comments after an error or bad PFP.

“Meetings about the meetings about… the meetings.”  It wouldn’t be spring training without the occasional meeting.  Some short, some long, but all are necessary.

  • Meet the staff
  • Meet the players
  • Meet the front office
  • Meet the APBPA
  • Hitters meet
  • Pitchers meet
  • Drug test meeting
  • Meeting about chart keeping
  • Meet about rules
  • Rotator Cuff meeting
  • Medical meeting
  • Meeting about scheduling meetings

“Oh the weather outside is weather.”  There’s a reason all 30 organizations have made either Florida (The Grapefruit League) or Arizona (The Cactus League) their spring training home.  Some players already live in the warmer climates.  But for the ones who leave the snow and arrive in the sun it’s GLORIOUS!  (and the first player to complain about the heat gets punched in the face)

“Please don’t feed the animals.”  After months of no baseball everyone is bursting with excitement for spring.  Including fans.  With a half dozen fields at a spring training complex, players run from one field to the next, in and amongst the observing fans.  People line the fences watching and pointing at ballplayers marching by.  Players love the energy even a small crowd can bring to just a simple practice drill.

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”  For Major Leaguers, spring training is about getting in shape for Opening Day.  For Minor Leaguers, spring training is about being in shape, making a team, and beating the odds.  Each organization has 200 minor league players (give or take), and only 100 will make opening day. (heads I lose, tails you win)

MARCH may be the toughest month for a minor leaguer, like… leaving home, learning a new position, being sent to a lower level, changing a delivery, getting released, trying a new pitch, climbing the ladder, being sidelined by injury, or making a team.  BUT for a baseball player, there’s no place like it. (It’s the greatest show on dirt!)

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.”  Rogers Hornsby


“OH Schmidt!”

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by @DimTillard

  • was collecting baseball cards, since before I could read.
  • I used to divide them into teams, colors, brands, years, logos, mustaches.
  • Putting them into sets or plastic protector sleeves was a daily ritual.
  • Baseball cards were very important in bringing the baseball world into my everyday life.
  • Years ago, players appeared more elusive because of the lack of information available.  Before the internet, twitter, or MLB Network (Intentional Talk), the only way to get much information about a player was through his baseball card.  Name, birthday, height, weight, stats, interesting facts.
  • It always seemed that having a player’s baseball card made them more real and more personal.  Cards allowed you to know more about them.  And it was always more fun to root for players you knew.
  • And I rooted for a lot of players, and had lots of baseball cards, BUT only one player had all my pride and all my love…

I’ll never forget the first time I found my dad’s baseball card!  Of course my family had several around the house, but NONE of those were ever found in a fresh pack of cards.  All of those Steve Dillard baseball cards were given to our family by very generous fans.

My hand was shaking as I reached down and picked it up.  1980 TOPPS!  I had never even seen this card of dad before!  I knew he had Red Sox cards, Tigers cards, and Cubs cards, but this particular card was not one of those.  What a find!  I couldn’t wait to break the news to the family!

Quickly, I ran down the hall to find daddy-o.  “Dad!  Dad!  I found one of your cards!”  I was filled with pride and bursting at the seams when I ran up to him!  I carefully handed him the NEW discovery.  He examined it, chuckled, and handed it back to me.  And my very amused dad said…

“That’s not me boy, that’s Mike Schmidt.”

HUH?  “Who?”  I asked.  “Mike Schmidt.” my dad said.  Wait.  Wait… I was confused.  This guy sure looked like Dad.  “Are you sure?” I hinted.  “Yep.” said Dad.  “Well, is he any good?”  I asked.  “Yeah he’s pretty good.  He’ll be a Hall of Famer.”  Dad said.

After this case of mistaken identity, I was suddenly more aware of the Mike Schmidt cards I had in my collection.  But to be safe, I had to cross-check ALL cards with dad to see if it was him or not.

  • “Dad, did you play for the Phillies?”
  • “No.”
  • “Dad, are we related to Mike?”
  • “Nope.”
  • “Dad, did we live in Philadelphia before I was born?”
  • “Don’t think so.”
  • “Dad, I found one of your Phillies cards!”
  • “Not likely.”
  • “Dad, this mustache yours?”
  • “Not mine.”
  • “Dad, remember when you were with the Phillies?”
  • “Still not me.”
  • “Dad, is this you?”
  • “That’s Dave Winfield.”

I’ve since realized the importance of reading.  But for a while I thought my dad played for the Phillies.  I’ve never met Mike Schmidt, but thanks to his BASEBALL CARDS, I know that:

  • He’s 6′ 2″ 203 lbs.
  • He was born in Ohio in 1949.
  • He’s lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
  • His middle name is Jack.
  • He bats right and throws right.
  • He was a 2nd round pick in 1971.
  • He was the 1st player to hit the top of the Astrodome.
  • He likes electric trains, and enjoys listening to music.

Baseball cards are great, and will always hold a special place in my heart.  But my favorite baseball cards will ALWAYS be the ones of my dad, Steve Dillard…

…and apparently, there’s a former Phillies player who looks like him.


“Leaving A Legacy: TroyLa Hawkins”

@DimTIllard pic 24

by @DimTillard

  • When I heard LaTroy Hawkins was retiring after the 2015 MLB season, I immediately thought of the late Kirby Puckett.
  • To explain this, I need to back up a bit…
  • LaTroy Hawkins was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1991. (I was 8 years old)  He’s been a Major League Baseball Player for the last 20 years.  And has pitched in 19 postseason baseball games.  He’s played for 10 different MLB teams, and has even struck-out the side in 9 pitches.
  • Hawkins has been drafted, signed, traded, released, ejected, designated for assignment, claimed off waivers, a starter, a reliever, a set-up man, a closer, and a leader.  And he’s had every kind of season there is:  Healthy, injured, grueling, awesome, good, bad, and the ugly.
  • On the pitching side of baseball, @LaTroyHawkins32 has had a career only a handful of pitchers can boast about.  But boasting is not something Hawk does.  You’ll never hear stories of his character come from his mouth.  They can only be heard from others.

For instance:  How LaTroy helped rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina, or how he helped groundskeepers regain control of a runaway infield tarp, or the time when he assisted in subduing an irate airline passenger mid-flight.

Baseball is a team sport, but with so many individual stats and the pursuit of success, it’s easy for a player’s focus to drift towards themselves.  LaTroy is the opposite.  This guy measures success in relationships.

I estimate Hawk has had between 500 and 700 teammates over his career.  But he also knows every umpire, every clubhouse manager, every team’s coaching staff, and a select number of mascots.  And yet, his focus is building relationships and serving others.

Now my LaTroy Hawkins story.

Hawk and I were both with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011.  After a day game at Miller Park, the team flew to New York.  The plane arrived in the early afternoon, and we boarded the player’s bus.  Once in Manhattan just minutes from the hotel, I heard my name being called from the front of the bus.

My anxiety was instant.  I assumed I had done something stupid OR maybe some of the guys wanted me to perform an impersonation. (maybe a Harry Caray or Kurkjian)  Either way, it’s usually not good.  In this instance however, neither was the case.  When I reached the front of the bus, LaTroy sat me down.

“Anyone ever buy you a suit?”  He said.

“A suit?  No.”  I said.

“Good.  When we get to the hotel follow me.”  He instructed.

“…”  (this is me being speechless for once)

Minutes later, I’m traipsing around New York City with LaTroy Hawkins!  All I could think was “This is freakin’ sweet!” and “Wait, why does he want to buy me a suit?”  I followed Hawk into a store called Portabellabut before the door closed behind us, the owner was already hugging my teammate.  I was busy looking at the walls.

On the walls were hundreds and hundreds of bats, balls, and pictures of anyone and everyone in baseball over the last 40 years!  I saw a Miguel Cabrera bat, a Ryan Sandberg ball, a photo of Ozzie Smith mid-flip ALL signed!  Floor to ceiling of personalized priceless memorabilia!  When I was done gawking at the baseball history being displayed, and meeting the owner, I heard Hawk say, “Hey, hook Dilly up for me.”

Next thing I know I’m being measured for a suit!  Two suits!  As the tailor led me around the store, I asked him how he knows LaTroy.  He told me he’d known him for years, and that I’m not the first teammate Hawkins has brought in here.  “How awesome is Hawk!?” I thought.  They asked me about buttons, pinstripes,  3-piece, socks, ties, dress shirts, French cuff, cuff-links, and belts!  By the end of this shopping spree, I knew I had more bags than would fit in my suitcase!

Standing in the store with my eyes wide and my heart full, I struggled to find the right words.  All that came out was, “Hawk, thank you!  This is single handedly the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.” 

“No problem Dilly.  Happy to do it!” Hawkins said grinning.

Then I said, “Hey man, can I ask why?  I mean, why’d you do this?”

He said, “You want to know why I did this?”  And without looking, LaTroy Hawkins pointed to the wall to his left and said,  “Because this guy did it for me.”  I walked over and saw a picture of the one and only Kirby Puckett.

 Bonus Video:  Spring 2010 “Harry Caray” Visits Brewers Camp