Dillon Tate was caught off guard. He spoke to a crowd of kids at Camden Yards in late August as part of the Baseball Academia Corp. , a youth-focused baseball group that works with his cousin.
Then director Brandon Hyde came out to watch, and the Tate kids were talking about removing the banners. As Tate read what they had written – congratulating the faithful right-hand man for becoming an Orioles nominee for the Roberto Clemente Prize – his speech paused.
“I had no idea,” Tate said. “I was just doing my business.”
Tate did not seek any credit. Little did he know that what he was doing would put himself in competition for honors from Major League Baseball. All Tate wanted was a way to give back to the community, propelling what coaches and mentors did to him growing up playing in youth baseball leagues and the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California.
“He was speechless,” Boyd said when his cousin Johannes Boyd called Tate shortly after the presentation on August 24. “He was completely speechless.”
And in the days since he learned about the nomination, the feeling is still the same.
“I’m still not sure how I feel about it,” Tate said. “Of course, it’s a very positive thing. It’s a great appreciation to be honored in this way. But just the general premise of it was just, we’re going to do that and just try to have a positive impact in some way. It was something very simple and it ended up being something recognizable from accepted by a larger organization. So it is an honor.”
The idea had been on Tate’s mind for a long time, but while he and Boyd were riding their bikes at Carroll Park in West Baltimore a couple of years ago, the opportunity finally opened up. Tate didn’t mention anything to Boyd, but he did start guiding his bike toward the practice that included kids ages 6-7. Boyd followed him.
Once there, Tate’s first steps were formed. He introduced himself to the coaches and players, then asked them to keep in touch. On a day out, Tate is back in his practice teaching kids the basics of field play and throwing.
“There were no stipulations or reservations,” Boyd said. “We just did it. The word I’m using was very serendipitous, because we were talking about these things, but we had no clue that we were going to see this group. We were on a casual trip, keeping fit and active. And they just happened to be there at this time. When we were looking to get involved in the community. The same opportunity came up then and there, and we seized upon it.”
Over the next two years, Tate’s involvement expanded. The shutdown at the start of this season provided time for Boyd and Tate to focus on forming Baseball Academia Corp, apply for nonprofit status and meet with other organizations in the area to exchange ideas.
Tate hosted a group of kids at Camden Yards every month this season, and Tate visited several practices to offer practical advice. He draws on his own life experiences in every discussion, from his time with the Urban Youth Academy to the struggle to play as a freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Tate ended up being a first-round pick for the Texas Rangers in 2015, but he had a 5.12 ERA before being traded to the New York Yankees. He then arrived in Baltimore as part of the deal that brought Zach Britton closer to the Yankees in 2018.
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Every twist and turn gives him material for his speeches, the lessons he learned and he wants to pass on to the next generation. He knows there’s a barrier to some families getting into baseball, but Tate tries to emphasize a work ethic and doing what’s right–in baseball and in life–as a cornerstone of his conversations.
“Being in my shoes, I’d like to see more kids who look like me play the game, or just have them understand that you have what it takes to play the game,” Tate said. “For some kids, it’s tough just because it’s such an expensive sport. Putting your feet in the door or getting something off the ground with a baseball can be tough with some families where money can be tight. I think just showing them there’s a way to get it done, even if You don’t have much, which is one of the main things I want to preach to them.”
Tate credits the Los Angeles-based volunteer coaches and mentors who have emerged as pivotal parts of his development into a major league holding 2.71 ERA in Baltimore’s 63 runs this season.
“I think more than anything, this was the opportunity I had,” Tate said. “I felt like I always had a good exposure when it came to coaches and mentors at Urban Youth Academy. I think that was something I wanted to continue, at least, as I progressed in my baseball career. For me, it’s just pushing it forward. That’s what I had. So I want to give that to the next group of kids.”
When asked how he felt when he became a Roberto Clemente Award nominee, Tate shook his head. He doesn’t see himself in the light of a “model citizen” like Clemente, the former Pittsburgh Pirates player who died in a plane crash at 38 in 1972 while on his way to provide assistance to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
But Tate appreciates this honor, and is focused on the next step — finding additional ways to better serve Baltimore’s young baseball players. He never thought that there would be recognition of his service.
“Influence is what it is called, I think, today,” Boyd said. “He is with himself, a fairly quiet person when it comes to things like that. I know this is a lot for his heart and for giving.”