It is the dream of almost every little boy to play a professional sport.How many times did you play in the backyard and imagine you were up in the bottom of the ninth inning in the last game of the World Series with the game on the line?
That’s make-believe, in reality not many of us were blessed with the physical talent to reach that level and for the vast majority of professional athletes, the grind it takes to get there is daunting. But for some, the allure of the “bigs” and the passion for whatever sport it is pushes them far beyond their normal bounds.
Dalton Mitchell was a stellar, four sport athlete at Massac County High School, graduating in 2014 and getting a baseball scholarship to Rend Lake College. That was the starting point for an interesting and rather circuitous route to Joliet, where he now is a member of the Chicago Deep Dish team that is playing for the City of Champions Challenge Cup.
The “league” consists of four teams: The Joliet Slammers [Frontier League] and three teams that were constructed from over 100 invitees who are college seniors and MLB prospects. The “Tully Monsters,” the Deep Dish and the Nerd Herd comprise the league. The teams play in the Slammers home stadium-Dupage Medical Group field.
The teams began play Friday, July 17. Three of the teams are managed by ex-major leaguers. Billy Petrick manages Joliet, Glenallen Hill [monster homers] manages the Deep Dish, Corky Miller [longtime minor leaguer and occasional back-up catcher for Cincinnati] manages the Nerd Herd and Scott Spiezio [Cardinals] manages the Tully Monsters.
There are numerous angles and story lines to pursue revolving around just the managerial group. The team nicknames are kinda cool as well.
In 1958, amateur fossil hunter, Francis Tully found some weird fossils in strip mine pits near Chicago and took them to the Field Museum. They were examined and estimated to be around 300 million years old.In honor of Mr. Tully, the species was named Tullimonstrum, hence Tully Monsters.
The Nerd Herd is a tip of the hat to the Ferrara family, longtime candy makers in Chicago and the Deep Dish is self-explanatory.
How Mitchell got to Joliet is the story.
After high school Mitchell signed to play at Rend Lake and was told he would probably only pitch. “His offense wasn’t up to the college level”. An elbow injury curtailed the Rend Lake pitching venture but the Paducah Chiefs gave him a chance to play the outfield again and a new start.
Alabama A&M was next, and Mitchell finished off his college career at Indiana, S.E. in New Albany. While there he played in the Northwoods League, a collegiate level league of top college players for the Bismarck, North Dakota Larks.
From there he made the jump to the Pecos League and the Roswell Invaders. Yep, that Roswell. The Pecos League is a unique mix of players with teams in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Colorado and Kansas.Mitchell commented that Roswell was really hot and windy and yes, the whole town pretty much revolves around the 1947 incident with “the little green men”.
With a successful Roswell season in the books, he was contacted by Mike Pinto of the Southern Illinois Miners about the 2020 season and was really looking forward to this summer. Well we all know how this turned out.
I asked Mitchell who he relates to in MLB and his answer surprised me….at first. Mitchell said he loves watching Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants.
I had the pleasure of watching [and coaching some] Mitchell in 2014 and understand his affinity towards Pence. Mitchell said Pence “doesn’t do anything right” on the field, but he gets the job done.
He said he heard all that same stuff all through his career: “He short arms the ball, he hits off the wrong foot, etc”. If you’ve ever seen Pence, you’ve seen the herky-jerky motions and the “stirrups” with his pant legs pushed up over his knees, “Mitch” wears ‘em exactly the same and plays with the same “hair on fire” intensity.
I once described Pence as a praying mantis on “speed” and Mitchell thought that was appropriate. He could have picked a far worse role model than Pence.
I asked Mitchell if he had ever met up with Mike Broadway, another local boy who pursued his dream to almost the ends of the earth. He said he had met Michael and talked to him about “the dream”.
Broadway told him to go for it and he is.
For all you little boys and girls out there who dream of “the bigs”, it can be done, but remember it’s a long, tough haul. Put in the time, retain your passion and hold fast to your dream.
Good luck, Dalton.