AKRON, Ohio — “Let’s go, Dillon!” somebody screamed.
Dillon Dingler, the Detroit Tigers‘ No.4 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline), walked to the plate in Canal Park on Wednesday night with the bases loaded and one out against the Double-A Akron RubberDucks.
When Dingler was introduced, a loud cheer came from the crowd even though Dingler was suited up for the visiting Erie SeaWolves. Dingler, a catcher, grew up in Massillon, about 25 minutes from here, and a couple hundred people from his hometown showed up Wednesday. Many of them were wearing purple T-shirts — the color of Jackson High School, where Dingler was a three-sport star.
Pam Dingler, his mother, sat in the stands, nervous as heck just like always.
“I’m sick to my stomach when he’s at bat,” she said. “For him, it’s a dream come true. This is what he has worked for his whole life.”
Jennifer Coddington, Dingler’s fourth-grade teacher, couldn’t stop smiling. “It’s just really amazing to see,” Coddington said. “I just remember him being a really nice, smart, kind, well-liked student.”
About 25 of Dingler’s former football, basketball and baseball coaches clustered near the dugout. Many of them shared Dingler stories, adding insight on one of the most important prospects in the Tigers’ system.
Like the time Dingler volunteered to switch from quarterback to slot receiver, just to help the football team.
Or how Dingler was so humble and empathetic you’d never know he was an all-stater and went on to play at Ohio State.
Or how he played basketball in high school, just to be around his buddies, and he helped them win a state title as the sixth man.
Or how there is now a massive mural of Dingler in the baseball facility.
Dingler is so beloved, respected and admired that about 1,000 people from Jackson are expected to watch him during this week’s seven-game series.
“I guess you could argue that he’s one of the best athletes we’ve ever had,” said Jackson athletic director Dan Michel, who wore an Ohio State jersey with Dingler’s name on the back. “Just a fantastic athlete, great kid. He was much more mature than the average kid, always focused. He was the kind of guy, you could sit in your office and talk to him like two men talking, which you don’t get a lot of that with high school kids.”
In front of all those familiar faces, Dingler singled to left field, driving in the SeaWolves’ first run.
“Awesome,” said Tom Yingling, a Jackson assistant baseball coach.
Yingling was the catcher coach when Dingler was in high school, and he used to pitch him batting practice. How many times has he thrown to Dingler? Thousands of times in a cage.
“I’ve coached for almost 40 years and I’ve had a couple of kids get to the minors, but I never got to see them play,” Yingling said. “So seeing Dillon is pretty special for me. He is a great athlete. Comes from a great family. He’s an unselfish kid. He’s a humble kid. Got a great work ethic. And he’s got special, special talents.”
If it takes a village to raise a pro baseball player, it seemed like half of it showed up on Wednesday night.
“It’s a good community that we come from,” Scott Dingler, Dillon’s dad, said. “There’s a lot of parent support and community involvement. There’s an awful lot of people in that community that spend a lot of their own time and energy and money helping the kids get better across the board, whatever sport it is.”
‘He’s in no hurry’
Before the game, several kids from Jackson stood by the edge of the field, holding Dingler’s baseball card, hoping for an autograph.
Even though this Erie team is loaded with prospects, including Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, Dingler is the headliner in this area.
The Tigers took him in the second round of the 2020 draft.
After Dingler lost last season to COVID-19’s shutdown of the minors, he started out this year at West Michigan, the Tigers’ High-A affiliate. He hit .287 with eight home runs, six doubles and 24 RBIs in 37 games.
He was quickly promoted to Erie, where he has continued to rake.
“He’s got a lot to learn and he’s in no hurry,” Scott Dingler said. “I think he’s blessed to be in an organization where they have a lot of young talent all together.”
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‘It was important to me for him to be humble’
In the fifth inning, Dingler doubled to center field.
“He tries to get a little better each time he’s up there,” Scott Dingler said of his son. “He just has to keep getting better.”
That sums up the family work ethic and approach. Never satisfied. Always wanting to improve.
In six games at Erie, Dingler is hitting .350 with seven hits.
Were his parents giddy? No.
Were they wearing his jersey? No.
They blended into the crowd, not wanting to make a fuss.
As one of Dingler’s coaches said: If you want to know why Dingler is so humble and grounded, talk to his parents.
“I preached it his entire life,” Pam Dingler said. “If you’re good at something, people know you’re good at it. You don’t need to tell them. It was important to me for him to be humble.”
Dingler still has a long ways to go. But if he continues to develop and hit, it’s clear that he could take a key role in the Tigers future.
“I think his empathy is what sets him apart from everybody else that I’ve ever coached,” Phil Gamble, Dingler’s high school baseball coach, said. “I know that sounds crazy, but he truly cares about the players around him and their perspective, from the last guy on the bench to the star player on the bench.”
And one thing is clear: This is a guy you can build around.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.