James E. Dillon of Scarborough goes into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame with one of the most varied backgrounds of any inductee. Just as some Major Leaguers are uncertain about which team cap to pose with on their Cooperstown plaques, will history recall Dillon as a pitcher? A shortstop? Or one of the best switch hitters in Maine baseball history?
In addition to this versatility “problem” for his baseball biographers, Dillon’s resume continues to grow annually; at age 34, he is still one of the top players in the Greater Portland Twilight League. Playing shortstop and hitting third or fourth, his team, Mortgage Network, makes annual appearances in the league championship series. Soon, Dillon’s league opponents will literally be half his age.
Dillon graduated from Scarborough High School in l986. His high school coach was Hall of Fame member Phil Martin, and he led Martin’s then-Redskins to a state Class B title in spring l986.
Dillon spurned professional offers out of high school. He opted to accept a four-year baseball scholarship with the UMaine Black Bears coached by HoFer John Winkin.
Dillon’s multiple talents would prove to be a combination of a blessing and a curse for Jim, the third son in the baseball-loving family of Arthur and Kay Dillon. While Dillon was to spend four years in a variety of pitching roles for UMO, he was perhaps never content to be a once-every-four-days player. When off the mound, his gaze returned to shortstop.
Dillon made an immediate impact upon arriving at the Orono campus in fall l986 and spring l987. During the spring baseball team trip, he got a taste of North Carolina blue, beating the Tar Heels 4-3 in The Dixie Classic at Shreveport, Louisiana. Later, he got the win over the Cuba National Team 7-3 in The Wheaties Tournament of Champions in Minnesota. In April l987, he threw a complete-game three-hitter against the University of Hartford.
Dillon’s biggest splash, however, came on May l, l987. The UMO team arranged to play the Triple A Maine Guides pro team at The Ballpark in Old Orchard. The recent Scarborough High graduate threw a no-hitter for 6 and 2/3 against the Guides. The game ended in a “gentleman’s tie,” 2-2.
The highlight of the early part of Dillon’s senior year at Orono came in spring l990. He pitched a complete game 4-l, two-hit victory for the Black Bears over national powerhouse Miami. Dillon’s team-leading ERA dropped to 2.40. Coach Winkin was pleased that this win, and another the next day for the Bears and Mike D’Andrea, put Maine into 25th place in an ESPN college baseball poll.
Dillon’s final sprint as a workhorse for UMaine came in the ECACs, where he threw l30 pitches in a hard-luck late-inning loss, and came back only three days later in the NCAA regionals to get four outs against Iowa for a 4-3 win.
His last appearance for the Black Bears was an unexpected start against Rutgers. Coach Winkin, playing a hunch, tracked the 6' 3", l90 pound flamethrower down at a fast food restaurant Friday night to tell him he would be pitching the next day.
Dillon put on a gutsy performance. He threw l26 pitches, but it all came down to an infield squibber that made it onto outfield grass. Game over. “Jimmy did all I asked him,” the coach said later, dealing with the team’s heartbreak. “I have no complaints.”
Dillon was drafted in spring l990 by the Oakland Athletics. Part of a storied draft class of pitchers that included million-dollar bonus babies such as Todd Van Poppel and others, Dillon promptly signed with Oakland.
He played first for the Class A Southern Oregon A’s in the Northwest League. In l99l, he was with the Madison A’s (later coached by Maine native and HoFer Dick Scott) in the Midwest League. In l990, he went 4-l with a l.54 ERA and a 3l to 5 strikeout to walk ratio. In l99l, he was 3-2 with a l.69 ERA and a 64-29 ratio.
Dillon was released by the A’s in the winter of l993 due to elbow problems.
Dillon continues to play baseball with zest. He has been perhaps the premier player in the Greater Portland Twilight League the past l0 years. He has also led a contingent of over-30 and over-40 hardballers to national tournaments in Arizona each winter. He is the Energizer Bunny of Maine baseball.