Tim Dillard is beginning his 17th season in professional baseball with a résumé that lists only 73 major league pitching appearances over all of those years.
In fact, the Rangers’ 35-year-old sidearm hurler hasn’t appeared in a big league game since he was with the Brewers in 2012. He has precisely one major league pitching victory.
Still, Dillard developed a cult following during 16 seasons in the Milwaukee organization, and he is quickly endearing himself to those who follow the Rangers.
Texas can already count on him in a relief role. Comic relief.
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Dillard has more than 45,000 followers on his Instagram and Twitter handle @DimTillard as fans are drawn to the pitcher’s quick wit and quirky social-media persona.
The Florida native has become a social media influencer of sorts. But, unlike the typical “Insta influencers” that are all the rage, like Kylie Jenner, Dillard hasn’t posed in a bikini to promote SugarBearHair vitamins for healthy hair.
But with his flowing beard, that might be next.
Instead, followers of his accounts will find family friendly, typically goofy content in their daily feed.
Sure Dillard’s posts include photos of family and friends, but he peppers the feed with comedic video parodies from popular movies such as “Anchorman” and “Happy Gilmore,” often enlisting teammates to play along.
The videos give fans a peek behind the scenes at the kind of silliness that pervades clubhouses over a long baseball season.
“Before social media, all of this stuff we do, we would do anyway,” Dillard said. “When it comes to movie quotes and things like that, that’s how we talk on a daily basis. So we just transform that into something that’s rated PG where everybody can watch and enjoy, and see (that) baseball is really fun. At any level, whatever you’re doing, you’re with people that are family and you’re having a good time.”
His most recent video features Dillard and Hunter Pence in a “Game of Thrones” take. Another has Dillard popping up as the narrator while several teammates lip-sync “The Sandlot.” Rangers utility man Chase d’Arnaud and others recently joined him in a scene from the latest “Ant-Man” movie.
It turns out d’Arnaud was a Dillard fan even before he was a Dillard teammate.
“I saw Dillard’s videos before I actually met him in person, and I liked them right away,” d’Arnaud said. “How could you not? They’re really funny, and they bring the team together.”
Dillard’s social media savvy is only one part of what he brings to a team’s dynamic, though. Off-camera, he has developed a reputation for being a stand-up guy as much as a stand-up comedian and an ideal teammate. He’s a character with character.
“He truly cares about every individual in that clubhouse,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “That impact is beyond anything he’ll ever do with his right arm.
“He’s a good pitcher. He’s been pitching a long time. Probably hasn’t been in the big leagues as long as he’d like, but it’s his impact on his teammates and just around the league in general. Anyone that’s played with him knows.
“They know who he is and what he’s about. The impact that he has on our younger guys in Double A or Triple A, it’s invaluable.”
D’Arnaud agreed and said he could go on and on about Dillard’s high-caliber character.
“He’s just a positive light, and I feel like you need guys like that around to keep the environment loose in the clubhouse,” he said.
“Without that, things can get a little serious. Baseball is a game, and when you have that perspective and you look at it like it’s a game, guys play a lot looser. Their muscles react faster. Their eyes react better. They make better decisions. It’s a necessity to have players like him in an organization.”
Dillard has seen the value of keeping things loose in his own career.
“I found out a long time ago that if all you’re doing is worrying about what happens on the field, it’s really hard,” he said. “You think about it when you leave the field, you think about it all night, and maybe sometimes you don’t sleep with all that anxiety and all that fear because the game is really hard.
“So to get my mind away from that, I started thinking less about myself and started trying to be a good teammate. That has kind of morphed into videos or whatever it is. To me, it alleviates the pressure of what goes on on the field, and it’s contagious.
“When you’re not bringing it with you when you leave, it gives you a lot of freedom to enjoy the game and enjoy where you’re at.”
Woodward thinks enough of Dillard that he asked him to share the story of his career to the rest of the Rangers at the morning meeting on the first day of spring training.
“I called him up in front of the group the first day just because I was like, ‘we got to get to know this guy. This guy is a pretty special human being,’” Woodward said. “I think beyond his pitching career, I’m going to push him to stay involved if he wants to coach because he’s a special, special guy.”
As another season approaches, Dillard said he’s just happy to be in a baseball clubhouse even after so many years.
“I’m not trying to look too far ahead,” he said. “I walk in everyday, and as long as I have a jersey hanging there, it’s pretty simple. That’s all I need.”
Kelly Doyle is a senior majoring in sports journalism at Arizona State University. This story is a part of a partnership between the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.