If you’re driving through Westphalia and you stumble upon a Wiffle ball game that includes two players who appear to be older than you’d expect, don’t be alarmed.
It’s just the Sears boys doing what they love to do.
“I’m sure people driving by are like, ‘Look at these high school kids out there running around, playing Wiffle ball,’’’ Dillon Sears said. “We just do it for the love of the game.’’
That love took Dillon and Brett Sears from the Westphalia Pee Wees to a Class 3-A state championship with Harlan Community in 2016. And it likely will take both of them to college programs.
Dillon Sears will soon leave for Division I Western Illinois University. The son of Chad and Janelle Sears takes one final award with him: The Daily Nonpareil’s Area Baseball Player of the Year for 2017.
Sears started the first game of his eighth-grade year at Harlan at second base and never relinquished his spot, starting 177 of a possible 180 games in five years. He ended his season at the state tournament all five years and played 12 games at Principal Park, including the state finals the last three campaigns.
Despite his early success, Harlan coach Steve Daeges saw a player who was never satisfied.
“He’s not somebody that rests on his laurels,’’ he said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s constantly working on his skills. Even in the winter time when he’d come up to the weight room he’d bring his glove and do some defensive drills.’’
Sears became enamored with the game at a very young age. He said he was maybe 4 or 5 when his father would take him to the ballpark in Westphalia about three blocks from their house.
“He’d always hit me fly balls and I’d always try to make diving catches,’’ Dillon said. “That was kind of our thing. That was the thing I always looked forward to. I’d also drag him out in the front yard and he’d throw Wiffle balls to me.’’
Chad Sears was an avid youth coach in the Harlan area, and Dillon would tag along at practices until he was old enough to play. In second grade he played with a local team of fourth-graders, batting leadoff and playing center field.
Seeking better competition, Dillon traveled to Omaha in sixth grade to join a select team headed by current Bellevue West coach Jason Shockey. Having played mainly in the outfield, Dillon thought he would try out at catcher. Then he was moved to shortstop.
“I kind of just fell in love,’’ he said. “I was like, ‘This is where I want to be. This is my place.’ I’m glad somebody was able to see it before I got too old.’’
Armed with the necessary fundamentals, Dillon started preseason workouts with the Harlan high school team as a graduated eighth-grader hoping to secure a spot on the varsity.
“The thing that stuck out to me – and it’s his strongest asset right now – is his hands,’’ Daeges said. ”His hands were so good. When I hit ground balls to him you could tell right away he had great hands.’’
There was one problem. He was 5-foot-7 and 115 pounds. There were no varsity guarantees.
Dillon vividly recalls the practice in which varsity jerseys were handed out.
“I was kind of looking at him, thinking, ‘Are you going to give me a jersey?’’’ he said. “I was kind of giving him the eye, like, ‘Hey, I’m over here.’ Finally he was like, ‘Here’s your jersey,’ and I was like, ‘Sweet!’
“I’m sure he had a method because Coach Daeges has a method to everything.’’
In his first 14 varsity starts, he batted only nine times. But in the 15th game against Carroll Kuemper, Daeges informed him that he wouldn’t be batting in the JV game.
“I was like, ‘Surely I’m not hitting varsity,’’’ Dillon said. He was, and he went on to bat .319 with a .510 on-base percentage in the No. 2 slot. He assisted on the final out of the substate win over Glenwood, advancing the Cyclones to state, where they lost to Clear Lake in the semifinals.
Four more summers, four more trips to state. Dillon moved from second to shortstop in his sophomore year and Brett took the job at second that year as an eighth-grader. They were a formidable double-play combo.
They reached the summit together last summer as the Cyclones won the 3-A title with a 12-4 win over Carlisle. Last weekend, Dillon was named the Small Schools West MVP in the IHSBCA All-Star Series, which was won by his team, and on Monday he made the 16-player coaches’ all-class, all-state Super Team. He set school records for career stolen bases (137) and triples (18).
In his high school career at Harlan, Dillon went 148-33 (.818).
“That’s probably my best high school memory, winning the state title with some of my best friends,’’ Dillon said. “Probably my second-favorite memory is just being able to do everything with Brett.’’
They still square off in the front yard, and now their younger brother, Cade, who will be a sixth-grader, gets in on the action. If it’s just the three of them, they rotate as one pitches, one hits and one plays in the field. If one of Cade’s neighbor friends joins them, it’s two vs. two.
Since there is no first baseman, you have to throw the ball against the front door to record the out.
“Mom doesn’t really like that, but she’s learned to live with it,’’ Dillon said.
The grass doesn’t grow where the bases are, and if you hit it over the tree and it lands on the road, it’s a home run.
This is life in the country and Dillon Sears wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“It’s what we do with our free time and how we pass time: Play more baseball.’’