By Jackson White
Dillon Howard belongs in a sacred place in Midland history. He is one of the three players in the entire history of the Midland program to win three consecutive Connie Mack World Series titles. Howard has carried the legacy he set at Midland long after his playing days, and the bonds he has created from his time as a Redskin. Howard was able to talk about his time at Midland, and ‘catch up’ with the Midland family.
Before his illustrious career as a Redskin, Howard was just a young man who loved the game. He took us back to where it all began for him as a baseball player.
“I was born and raised in Searcy, Arkansas. I grew up playing baseball, really ever since the time I could walk. I think I knew from an early age that baseball would really be my sport, I did play basketball and football in junior high, but once I got to high school I realized I wasn’t very good and that baseball was going to be the sport I wanted to stick with. You know, I was really just a big fish in a small pond. There really wasn’t a lot great baseball where I was from, so I was pretty good in high school, we did, however, lose three straight state championships, which really sucked” Howard said.
Howard is no exception to what Midland has done since its inception as a program. Get really talented players that could range from Cincinnati, or in Howard’s case, Arkansas. Being so far away, Howard took us through the process of getting to know what Midland was, and how he really became aware of what the program was.
“I played in one of those showcases in Fort Myers, Florida, I believe I was a sophomore at the time, and the greatest recruiter of all-time, [former Midland GM] Brian Hiler pitched this idea, and he told me about Midland. When he first told me about Midland, I was thinking ‘man I’m from Arkansas, why would I want to go all the way up to Cincinnati.’ But, I did a little bit of research, I talked to my friends and family about it, and not only did it seem like a good opportunity to become a better baseball player, but just to get out on my own, and get away from home, which was tough for me because I really was a homebody,” Howard said.
“But, when I did get there, it was really just an eye-opening experience. The amount of resources, and attention to detail that Mr. Hayden set up the program with, just getting the host families together, the indoor facility, our field, it just didn’t seem real because I really never knew a place like this existed. Being with all of those really other talented players, you know they were just like you were, the best player on their team, or even their state, a lot of them are playing in the big leagues now. That was my first experience playing with those calibers of players on an everyday basis. The coaches that we had, it really felt like the first time I had real coaches, and it was real baseball, so my initial reaction was very good” Howard added.
Anyone who ever as been associated with the Midland program knows that it all started from one man’s dream, Joe Hayden. Hayden was truly the lifeblood of the program until his passing in 2013, and Howard talked about his relationship with ‘Papa’ Joe, and what kind of person he thought Papa Joe was.
“I remember he would go about anywhere on earth with a cigar. A quick story about Mr. Hayden that I’ll always remember, we were going somewhere to play in a tournament in Ohio. Well, obviously you can’t smoke in these hotels, and so we walk in the hotel, and of course, Mr. Hayden has a big cigar in his mouth. The front desk lady told him he couldn’t smoke in there, and Mr. Hayden got fussy and told her that “he would smoke wherever he wanted to smoke”. Well, I guess the manager overhead this, and walked over and said with a laugh “just let him smoke, it’s ok,” Howard said laughingly.
“I mean but really, Mr. Hayden was one of the most charismatic, caring people that I’ve ever met. What he’s done for the thousands of kids just like me, and even beyond baseball, he created so many opportunities for so many kids, and he really treated everyone like family. He would just bend over backwards to make sure you had everything that you needed to be successful. I can’t tell you how much respect I had for him, and how much I loved him, just the wonderful opportunity he provided all of us, especially the out of state kids, to get real life experience, all while in a safe, family environment was really just amazing,” Howard said.
Being now that Howard is really into the heart of his own life, well removed from his playing days at Midland, he shared what lessons he still carries today, and what the important things he learned from Midland was.
“I mean teamwork, for sure, that would be an obvious one. But a big one, I think, would be that you can’t just rely on your talents because there’s always somebody that’s working harder, there’s always somebody that’s more talented, I mean just working hard. I developed a work ethic there, that’s where I realized you can’t just get by on talent, because I always had just relied on my talent until I got to Midland, and then I realized everyone is as good as you, if not, better. It was probably the first difficult thing that I’ve done in my life, with baseball or in real life. I developed so many relationships, made so many memories that I’ll have forever,” Howard said.
As mentioned at the outset of the article, Howard lives in special company in the Midland program. He is one of only three to ever wear the Midland jersey to win three consecutive Connie Mack titles. Howard was able to talk about the special company he belongs in, and what it means to him to be one of the only three to have that honor.
“When you think about all the great players that have played at Midland, I mean just to even be on the team for three years is unbelievable to me. When you think about all the great players, to be one of the only three, is pretty special to me. I still have those rings, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. To be one of the only three people to do that is a great achievement in my book, and I will cherish those memories forever,” Howard said.
Peters will forever live in Midland royalty with Dillon Peters and Chase Silseth as the only other men to have won of three back-to-back-to-back championships in Midland history. Howard is another great player to have had the pleasure of wearing the Midland jersey, and he certainly will be forever remembered as a Redskin, and his incredible achievements.