Hard work pays off as former SEMO pitcher makes Major League debut for Atlanta Braves
Hard work pays off.
At least it did for former Redhawks pitcher Dylan Dodd.
In fact, the 24-year-old made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut for the Atlanta Braves on April 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals, a game played just three hours away from his hometown of Danville, Ill.
The Braves defeated the Cardinals 4-1, with Dodd pitching the first five innings. His fastball averaged 95 mph. He only gave up one run, on an RBI double by Cardinal rookie Taylor Motter.
Coaches informed Dodd he would make the start about a week and a half prior to the game, but he claimed it never really hit him until the day before when he showed up to the stadium and watched the first game.
He described the moment as a dream come true.
“Lucky enough, it was in St. Louis, so it was close enough for my family and a ton of friends to come there and enjoy the moment with me,” Dodd said.
He was overwhelmed with the amount of support present at that game.
“I knew a decent amount of people were coming, but a lot more people showed up than what I realized, and I’m super thankful for all of their support,” Dodd said. “As much as I love doing what I do, it’s still like a job. There’s parts of it that you love and parts that you don’t, but having support from people through success and failure is what makes it easier.”
Dodd transferred to Southeast Missouri State University for the 2019 season, after beginning his career for two years at Kankakee Community College in Kankakee, Ill.
“My three years at SEMO were some of the best years of my life,” Dodd said. “I learned a ton about baseball, experienced great coaches and was just able to build connections that are still acting. I’m very grateful for that. I still talk to a bunch of people from that area, and they mean the world to me.”
In 2019, Dodd led the team in starts (14), strikeouts (77) and innings pitched (76), while also starting all 14 of his appearances. He posted a 4-5 record with a 5.33 ERA and ranked second on the team in wins and ERA.
In 2020, however, the season was shortened due to COVID-19, and the Redhawks played far less games, granting the then-senior an extra year of eligibility.
Dodd started all four of his appearances in the 2020 season. He was 2-1 with a team-best 3.38 ERA among starting pitchers. He led the team with 36 strikeouts and pitched 26.2 innings.
As a result, Dodd was named Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Pitcher of the Week, as well as one of Collegiate Baseball’s National Players of the Week.
SEMO head baseball coach Andy Sawyers emphasized Dodd’s steadiness, consistency and determination as a player.
“Dylan showed progression each year. If anybody says they knew he was a big leaguer his first year, they’d be lying to you,” Sawyers said. “But, I remember his first bullpen on year two. He had a real slider. I remember thinking at that point, ‘That this kid’s got a chance.’”
When Dodd came back that fall after the time off due to the virus, he dominated.
Leading up to Dodd’s final season with the Redhawks, Sawyer recalled a conversation with Dodd’s mother.
“I was sitting next to his mom, and she’s like ‘Well, do you think Dylan will get a chance to play after college?’ I responded to her and said that her son was going to play in the big leagues,” Sawyers said.
And two years later, Dodd did just that.
In more than 156 Minor League innings, he combined pinpoint control with his otherwise strong stuff, which led to a somewhat meteoric ride through the Minor Leagues.
The Atlanta Braves picked Dodd in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft.
“I would say my parents are probably the most influential people and the ones who impacted me the most,” Dodd said. “Growing up, they were the ones who supported all of the travel ball, which can be very expensive, and traveled across the world with me. They were my biggest supporters then, and they still are.”
Not only did he experience a change of scenery when moving from Missouri to Georgia, but he also experienced many differences in the game of baseball.
“Obviously, the skill gap is probably the biggest difference [between Division I baseball and the Major Leagues,]” Dodd said. “But really at the end of the day, it’s the same game. As a pitcher, you’re still pitching from 60 feet and six inches. You’re still playing to get three outs and win the game. It’s all about trusting the work that you put in and the time you’ve spent getting better. Then, when it comes to game day, you just have to compete.”
He described some of his goals moving forward after that first game.
“There’s a ton of unknown right now for me, and my biggest goal is, when I get the opportunity again, to be consistent,” Dodd said. “That’s a hard thing to do at this level. You can often have a one-time success, but the hard part is doing it again and again.”
Following his successful debut, Dodd’s start against the San Diego Padres ended up in a loss for the Braves.
Sawyers isn’t worried about it at all, noting Dodd’s toughness and perseverance are what separates him from the rest.
Dodd has since headed back to the minors for some extra work with the Braves’ affiliate Triple-A Gwinnett.
“We are so proud of Dylan and what he has been able to do in his short time with the Braves organization,” said SEMO athletic director Brady Barke said. “He is a tremendous athlete, but an even better person. He represents us so well on a national stage and [I] know he has a bright future.”