Chris Dillon spent the last two baseball seasons in the background, making his Juneau-Douglas High School teammates better.
This year, it's been his turn to shine.
Dillon, a junior catcher for the Crimson Bears, is in his first season playing full-time with the varsity. He's caught every pitch of every game so far this season as Juneau takes its 6-2 record into this weekend's home series against the Sitka Wolves (5-7).
But Dillon is far from a typical first-year varsity player. He calls most of his games, relying only occasionally on coach Jim Ayers for guidance in pitch selection. Earlier this month, he helped guide senior pitcher Matt Greely to a no-hitter in Sitka.
Dillon's seasoned judgment is thanks in large part to the extra effort he made as a freshman and sophomore - when varsity playing time was hard to come by behind veteran catchers Isaac Cadiente and Bud Baun. Instead of languishing on the bench, Dillon donned his catcher's gear and headed for the bullpen - whether it was a dusty pit, soupy quagmire or somewhere in between.
"He dedicated himself to the team by catching pitchers, primarily in the bullpen, even when it was raining or stormy," Ayers said of Dillon. "To go down and warm up a pitcher in the mud is not much fun, but Chris has always jumped up to be the first guy to work out."
Consequently, Dillon built a strong bond with the Crimson Bear pitching staff - something he can draw on this season, now that Cadiente and Baun have graduated and he has nabbed the starting job.
"We started out with me calling the games, but Chris has worked for two years getting to know the pitchers, the game," Ayers said. "It's to the point ... when he goes out on the field, he makes a lot of his own decisions. ...
"He makes decisions, makes them with confidence and takes care of his pitchers."
"It's huge having a catcher who works hard for you," Greely said. "You have confidence he's going to stop the ball, call the right pitch. ... He knows what the batter is thinking at the plate, and he knows the pitchers' likes and dislikes."
What's more, Dillon has accomplished all of that while enduring particularly grueling weekends. This season, the Southeast schedule shifted from series of five games over four days to series of four games over two days.
That means Dillon has to crouch behind the plate for doubleheaders on back-to-back days. It's tiring - "I just go home to sleep," Dillon said of his postgame activities - but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"If you play out in the field you maybe get three or four plays a game," he said. "I like being a part of every play."
And the best part of being behind the plate?
"I enjoy throwing guys out, and I like when there's a guy at third and you block a ball," Dillon said. "You've pretty much saved a run."
Dillon has also made contributions on offense this season, including a 3-for-4, four-RBI performance in a game at Sitka earlier this month. He drove in the winning run of a 3-2 victory in Ketchikan on April 30.
Senior shortstop Erik Scholl said Dillon's dedication is inspiring to other players on the team.
"He's put a lot of work into catching even though he didn't get a lot of playing time last year or the year before," Scholl said. "He's stepped up this year. He can stop just about anything, and his attitude sets him apart from other people."
"Chris is the kind of kid every coach wants to have as a catcher - I can't pay him a higher compliment than that," Ayers said. "You hope for a kid who is smart, dedicated and works hard - and Chris Dillon is all of those things."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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