We hear it all the time. “Keep the faith.” That is, stay strong, continue to believe.
But believe in what? Peyton Dillingham wasn’t sure.
A Normal West High School senior and already an accomplished athlete, Dillingham had heard his varsity baseball coach, Chris Hawkins, talk of faith and reference the Bible. Dillingham was curious.
He decided to seek answers, first through an anonymous team survey and later face to face with Hawkins.
“He told me he was starting to wonder more about it,” Hawkins said.
Dillingham began attending church with Hawkins and his family. It became a weekly thing until one day, Dillingham told his coach he was ready to attend on his own … or in his own way.
“I wanted to have that same effect he had on me on some of my peers and people around me … just bring other people with me,” Dillingham said.
All the while, Dillingham was having the best spring of his baseball life. He batted .430, drove in 44 runs and belted 16 doubles, two triples and 11 home runs.
The previous year, he hit two homers.
“I can only remember one of them,” he said.
A lot of things went into Dillingham’s power surge. He had worked on his swing with West assistant coach Cory Phillips. He continued to work hard in the weight room. He had changed his overall approach, focusing on “seeing a pitch you want and visualizing what you’re going to do with it.”
As important, he had answers. He better understood faith and how keeping it is easier once you truly have it.
“It’s a different frame of mind,” Dillingham said. “I feel like I’m not as nervous at the plate because I know there are bigger and better things watching over me.
“We always talk about how bad things can be for some people. There are worse things than a 0-for-4 kind of day. We always say, ‘Bad compared to what?’ That’s what has helped me a lot.”
Dillingham has connected with his father, Jason. He also refers to stepfather, Shane Bachman, as “dad.”
He feels blessed to have them in his life, as well as “a great mom,” Angie Bachman, and siblings Ty Bachman, 8, and Jaycee Dillingham, 12.
“It’s great to have a family that’s there to support you no matter who it is or how many people there are,” Dillingham said. “Like any family, things get tough at times. You just have to work through things.”
Dillingham is not afraid of work. He was captain and quarterback of the West football team. He has been a captain and three-year starter in baseball, earning a scholarship to Heartland Community College.
This year, he added cheerleading to the mix.
He took some ribbing for that, especially when the cheerleaders were behind the West bench in football.
“It was like, ‘Aren’t you going to go over there with the cheer team?’” Dillingham said. “I was like, ‘No, I’m actually playing quarterback today. But in a couple of weeks, I’ll be on the cheer mat.’”
Dillingham’s introduction to cheerleading came prior to his senior year on “Bring a Guy to Practice Day,” he said. Before he knew it, he was an active participant.
“They said, ‘Try a back flip, try this, throw a girl up and hold her in the air with one hand,’” Dillingham said. “Everything just seemed to work out. I ended up joining and dedicated a lot of time to it. I found it was something I wanted to be really good at.”
He was, though it wasn’t easy. Dillingham will tell you cheerleading is “one of the hardest sports out there.”
He and two female teammates won a coed stunting state title over the winter. He takes pride in that, saying, “It was nice to go and get a state championship for our school.”
Oh, and there’s this.
“I never thought I’d be able to do the splits until I joined cheer,” he said, smiling.
“It (cheerleading) kind of kept me fresh for baseball,” Dillingham added. “Some guys are going in and taking hundreds of swings every day. When spring came, it was really exciting for me to get back out and get after things again.”
Part of his new spring routine was becoming a regular at Normal West’s weekly optional Bible study, led by former West assistant and University High head baseball coach Jim Collins. Collins lost his 21-year-old son, Michael, to a drunk driver in 2014.
Dillingham calls Jim Collins “a huge influence in my life” along with Hawkins and Phillips.
“We’ve watched a lot of ‘I Am Second’ videos,” Dillingham said. “It makes you realize that in the grand scheme of things, you’re not alone when you’re out there playing the game you love. There’s somebody there with you.”
Sunday, Dillingham will play for the Intercity in the 61st annual Pantagraph All-Star Baseball Game at Illinois Wesleyan’s Horenberger Field. If he looks at peace in the batter’s box, it’s because he is.
Keep the faith?
Just watch him.