There aren’t that many types of stories in baseball, or in sports at all. They’re all very basic. You’ve got the stories about the guys with all the talent in the world, the superstars. Then there’s the stories about people finding themselves in baseball, either in the tradition or the camaraderie of it all. And there’s the stories about the underdogs, the people or teams who do good despite all odds being against them. Just about every story in baseball is a variation of one of these themes, or precious few others.
But, it’s the details of each story that makes them unique. Each story, while being the same basic thing, is new in it’s own way, and that’s how they keep us interested in them.
For the San Francisco Giants, the stories had all been bad coming into last week. The division champs had fallen hard. Off season acquisitions were not working out. Almost the entire team seemed to be in the same slump, and weren’t showing many signs of pulling out of it. The first two weeks had been mostly division rivals Los Angeles and San Diego delivering smackdowns of depressing proportions. The team was in last place, and on Wednesday in the locker room, the pitchers (who had been roundly disappointing in the first few weeks of the season) were criticizing the new catcher, A.J. Pierzynski (Who had been similarly disappointing) to a reporter, with the comments to appear in the newspaper the next day.
Things hadn’t been so bad in San Francisco since before the land that was now The Park Formerly Known As Pac Bell had been an empty warehouse.
And then, there were the injuries. Ace pitcher Jason Schmidt and platoon outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds had missed the first two weeks of the year. Starter Dustin Hermanson had just been put on the DL with back problems. Rob Nen was again nowhere to be found. And now, starting second baseman Ray Durham was going on the DL with knee problems.
And it was in this moment, with a mood someplace between desperation and concession, that an emergency call was made to the minor league team in Fresno for some help.
Don’t compare Brian Dallimore to ‘Crash’ Davis, the career minor leaguer that Kevin Costner played in the classic baseball story “Bull Durham.”
“He’s completely fictional. I’m for real,” Dallimore said this spring, his first ever in a major league camp with the San Francisco Giants.
Don’t compare him to Jim Morris, either. Morris, the real life 38 year old pitcher whose story was told in “The Rookie.” Morris gave up baseball young, after an injury, and simply hadn’t tried to make it in 15 years. It was only when he tried that he made it.
Dallimore has been trying. And trying. And trying.
Dallimore grew up a baseball person, thanks to his father Fred, who was the longtime coach of UNLV. As he became an all-state player for Clark High School in Las Vegas, he grew up idolizing one of his father’s former players at UNLV, Matt Williams, and Williams’ teammate in the majors, Will Clark. He became a fan of the Giants that way.
Dallimore then came to the Bay Area to play for Stanford University, where he played very well. He made the 1994 US Baseball team, and still holds one of Stanford’s team records: he was hit by a pitch in a season more often than anyone else in school history. It wasn’t much of a record, but it was his.
But when professional ball came calling, things changed. Dallimore was drafted by Houston in the 9th round of the 1996 draft. Suddenly, the all-state player and college star began to have problems. His average was low for the minor leagues, and even though he was older than many of the prospects he played with, he could not keep up. He hit in the .260’s in his first two years, and his strikeout totals grew. He became mired, rising very slowly through Single-A ball. When he finally broke into AA, in the middle of the 1999 season, he was 25. And in a sport where your age means everything while in the minors, the 25 year old was no longer a prospect.
Dallimore arrived in San Francisco just in time for a day game on Thursday against the Florida Marlins. The very Marlins who had beaten the heavily favored Giants in the first round the previous year, the team that had won the World Series, and the team that was sitting atop the entire National League in 2004.
The Giants were coming off an encouraging series against the 2nd place Braves, having taken 2 of 3. Dallimore got to see one of the wonders of the game, watching Barry Bonds hit a home run in the 6th to bring the Giants to within one. But that thrill disappeared as the Marlins got a home run of their own in the top of the 7th, and the first two Giants went down in order in the bottom half of the inning. And it was in this situation that Dallimore found himself pinch hitting for pitcher Jerome Williams.
He let the first pitch to him go by. And Dallimore took his first major league swing on the next one, a major league breaking ball from Brad Penny.
And the ball dribbled weakly to shortstop, and quickly, Dallimore’s first major league experience was over, 6-3.
The Giants went on to lose, 4-3.
In 2000, he was traded to Arizona, and in 2001, at the age of 27, he had a breakout season in AA, hitting .327 and pushing his power production to 8 home runs, a career high. He was a 2001 AA All-Star, but he was still 27. After performing well at AAA in 2002, the Diamondbacks let him go without an offer. And that’s when the Giants made him an offer, and he joined the Fresno Grizzlies.
That year, 2003, something changed. But it started late for him. He was sidelined the first month with a rib cage injury. But when he came back, he began to hit differently. His strikeout totals dropped, while his walks increased. At the age of 29, he’d learned about waiting for his pitch, and adjusting to the pitcher. Hits were being sprayed around the field. Though his power numbers and speed dropped, he was becoming a more effective player. In mid-August, he realized that he could win the batting title. At the end of August, he had, batting a AAA leading .352. Dallimore had also become a very versatile player to make himself attractive, logging time in the minors at first, second and third bases, shortstop when he was younger, and as a corner outfielder.
And yet, with the minor league season over, and the major league club a foregone conclusion to win the NL West, Dallimore did not get a call up to the majors.
"I've probably never been as disappointed with baseball as I was (Monday) when I didn't get called up," Dallimore said. "Honestly, I wasn't expecting a call-up, but I was very hopeful. But I saw the politics of the game smack me squarely in the nose. Not many guys hit .352 and don't make the big leagues.”
That winter, Dallimore considered quitting baseball, or changing from the organization he had rooted for growing up. But he decided to give it one more chance.
After Thursday’s disappointing game, Dallimore unexpectedly found himself in the starting lineup at third base against lefthander Dontrelle Willis. Willis, of course, was coming home in his own right, having grown up across the bay in Alameda. Alfonzo had been put in at 2nd base to replace Durham, and with Pedro Feliz filling in for J.T. Snow at first base against the left-hander, the door had been opened.
Dallimore knew that this might be his only opportunity to make an impression and earn some more time in the majors. After 8 years in the minors, it was clear that such opportunities came few and very far between.
So as Dallimore stood in the on deck circle in the bottom of the first, due to be the second batter in the game, with Florida already up by 4 runs, he was ready to make an impression.
Unfortunately, no one else was ready to notice him.
Jeffrey Hammonds, who’d misplayed a ball in right in the first, led off the game with a home run. The fans were still abuzz when Dallimore stepped into the batter’s box, and so was Dontrelle Willis. Willis threw four straight balls that weren’t even close to the strike zone, and Dallimore didn’t even get a chance to swing the bat.
Still, Dallimore was on base for the first time in his short major league career.
And then Marquis Grissom singled. Though Dallimore went to third, everyone was focused on Grissom making an ill advised turn to try and get to second base on the hit, instead being thrown out. Then, the attention of everyone turned to yet another intentional walk to Barry Bonds, and frustration as Alfonzo nearly hit into yet another double play behind that walk. Even though, on that groundout, Dallimore scored.
As Dallimore crossed the plate, he knew he may have just scored the most invisible run of his career.
In the spring of 2004, Dallimore’s decision to stick with the Giants looked like a good one. He had been invited to his first major league spring training camp, and was getting a lot of playing time at third base thanks to an early injury to Edgardo Alfonzo. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .279 with a home run and 10 RBI’s in 21 games.
But yet again, Dallimore was sent to Fresno. There would be no major league roster spot waiting for him.
Still, people in the big leagues had taken notice of him. His teammates voted him in as the winner of the 2004 Harry S. Jordan award winner, an award given to the player in his first major league camp whose performance and dedication exemplified the spirit of the San Francisco Giants.
Dallimore, though, was well aware of the portentousness of the award. The previous year’s winner, Jason Ellison, hadn’t broken camp with the major league team either. He was called up once, and got only 10 at bats in his short stint. He went 1-10, and went back to the minors, and got very cold for a while. Ellison finished ’03 with a .295 average and was nowhere closer to a fulltime spot in the majors.
Dallimore wasn’t going to give up, though.
"Everyone is pretty disappointed that I haven't gotten there yet and that I'm very deserving," Dallimore said. "For my family, it would be very difficult to see me walk away at this point. Especially now that I'm this close."
The second inning of Friday night’s game didn’t go much better for the Giants. Willis doubled to lead off the inning, and the speedy Juan Pierre came up, looking to sacrifice Willis over. Dallimore set himself up for it, coming in on the grass to play the bunt. And when the bunt came, Dallimore raced in to cover it. He grabbed the ball and quickly threw to first to get the speedy runner.
Except the throw went into the dirt, and Feliz couldn’t pick it up. The runner was safe, and Willis had been moved to third. And as the Marlins used that miscue to start yet another rally, and as the scoreboard flashed “Score That Play: E-6,” Dallimore knew he’d done exactly what he’d been trying to do.
He’d made an impression.
Joe Garigiola once said “Baseball gives you every chance to be great. Then it puts the pressure on you to prove that you haven't got what it takes. It never takes away the chance, and it never eases up on the pressure.”
When Dallimore finally got back into the dugout at the end of that inning, Florida had gone up 9-2. The fans were booing loudly. And things looked like they couldn’t get any worse.
Then Hee Sop Choi dropped a foul pop up by Neifi Perez.
It’s hard to pinpoint when and where things turn around, but sometimes, it’s the most innocent of things. Nothing could happen on that play that Choi dropped, since it was a foul ball, but Willis eventually walked him.
Then Yorvit Torrealba doubled. And Dustan Mohr got hit by a pitch. And suddenly, Dallimore was back out in the on deck circle. And as Jeffrey Hammonds singled in a run, leaving the bases full for Dallimore, the fans began to get excited.
Over 8 years in the minors, Dallimore had learned to recognize pitchers who can get a little rattled. He’d just seen how rattled Willis had been in the previous inning after giving up a home run. He knew that he’d be lucky to see anything in the zone in his at bat. So when he saw the first pitch was going to be a strike, he didn’t waste it, and just swung.
There probably isn’t a Giants fan in the country that doesn’t know what happened next.
Duane Kuiper, broadcasting the game on KNBR, exclaimed over the roar of the crowd “I do not believe it!” For once, he sounded like he really meant that.
As Dallimore rounded the bases, the stadium literally rocked and rolled. The team came out to welcome him to home plate. The foghorn sounded, and water spouted from the right field wall.
Finally, Brian Dallimore had made an impression.
Most stories might end there. It would certainly be fitting to. For most people, it might be enough to build your life for that one moment, and rest in that glory.
The story isn’t over for Brian Dallimore.
He finished the game 3 for 3, and in his last plate appearance, fittingly enough, got hit by a pitch. He was on base in each of his plate appearances, and scored 3 times. After the game, people were talking.
“Since spring training, we had a lot of explaining to do for that kid before we sent him down,” Felipe Alou said after the game. “I've got to find him a place to play tomorrow. With a debut like that, I better play him somewhere. He's got a nice swing. A base-hit swing.''
Alou did. Dallimore started both of the next two games over the weekend, going 3 for 10, getting two more key RBI’s and advancing Bonds to 2nd base in Sunday’s 11th inning, setting up Bonds to score on Torrealba’s double to win the game.
If anything is clear at this point, it’s that Dallimore’s story in the major leagues is far from over.
And for the fans of the Giants, this is one story we won’t soon forget.
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