By the time Ryan Braun reached Triple-A Nashville in 2007, Tim Dillard had watched him play twice.
In 2005, Braun stopped by Low-A affiliate Brevard County in Florida for two days. The next year, Dillard said the difference between Double-A Huntsville’s woeful first half and torrid second half play was the addition of pitcher Yovani Gallardo and Braun after the all-star break.
So when Dillard started with the Sounds in 2007, he knew Braun wouldn’t be his teammate in Nashville for much longer.
“You just knew that he had an idea,” Dillard said. “He had already played the game in his mind. He was walking up there and he eliminated pitches. To do that at a young age is amazing. So it wasn’t a surprise in ’07 when he was [National League] Rookie of the Year after missing a month of the season. It was just amazing.
“He did everything better than everybody. He could run faster. He could obviously hit. The guy’s approach to hitting is amazing.”
Dillard shared stories and memories of Braun on Tuesday night before the Sounds began an eight-game home stand at Greer Stadium. Dillard, a right-handed pitcher, is in his 11th season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
He has spent time with Braun in the minor leagues and up in Milwaukee, most recently last year. He also spent 34 games with him in Nashville in 2007 before Braun was called up to the Brewers and batted .324 with 34 home runs and 97 RBIs in five months during his rookie season.
A week ago, Braun, the NL MVP in 2011, was suspended for the remaining 65 games of the season for using performance-enhancing drugs.
“I really don’t have any comments on that I guess,” Dillard said. “I don’t know. It is just one of those things you don’t know all the details. You don’t know what is going on. I haven’t been in affiliated baseball for [the first part of the 2013 season] so I don’t really know what’s been going on. I don’t know. I can only say good things about him because that is the only experience I’ve had with him.”
Dillard said he didn’t witness any noticeable changes in Braun’s physical appearance from year to year. In fact, he said the only difference about Braun now from when he played minors is that he now plays left field instead of third base.
Dillard also complimented Braun on being a good teammate. He noted that when he picked up his first Major League win in 2011, Braun and former Brewer Prince Fielder were happier than he was.
“We were talking about it a week ago [in the clubhouse] and everybody was like, ‘Dude, there is not a better teammate out there,’” Dillard said. “He is cordial and nice. He didn’t shy away from guys getting called up. Maybe they are only going to be there a couple days or a week or something – you don’t know how long you are going to be there. But it didn’t stop him from coming over and being like, ‘Hey, congratulations.’ ”
Dillard, 30, says what impresses him about Braun more than his hitting and his “great arm” is his mental approach.
In 2007, when both players were with the Sounds, Braun was on the disabled list for a hand injury. During a close game at Colorado Springs, the Sounds had the bases loaded. Dillard, a starter at the time, was in the dugout and asked Braun if he needed to could he go the plate and come through with a hit. Braun responded that he couldn’t muster up a swing but he could “walk a run in.”
Dillard was taken aback by the confidence of this young 23-year-old. Two days later, Braun was activated.
“Any time you haven’t hit in a while for hitters and you finally get to hit, you can’t wait to swing,” Dillard said. “He goes up to the plate and, sure enough, he took like six pitches and walked. When he walked, he threw the bat over to the side and he found me in the dugout [and pointed]. I was clapping. I was like, ‘This guy is awesome.’ He just knows how to play the game head and shoulders above a lot of people. And he was doing that at a young age. He’s awesome.”