Dallas making his mark on mound for Tennessee
By Mike Wilson
Chad Dallas’ future Tennessee baseball teammates read him wrong on his official visit to Knoxville in spring 2019.
Now Dallas, a former West Orange-Stark standout, and his teammates are hosting a regional this week in Knoxville and have been one of the most dominating teams in the nation.
Catcher Connor Pavolony and outfielder Evan Russell confessed their error months later after Dallas arrived.
“They came to me and told me, ‘Dude, I am going to be honest, I thought you were going to be a catcher when you first showed up,’” Dallas said.
Dallas has heard that before — many times. He knows he does not look the part of a typical SEC Friday night starter. But the junior pitcher has been exactly that for Tennessee for the past two seasons, anchoring UT’s rotation and setting the tone on the opening night of weekend series.
“He brings to the table all the things you want in the guy holding the Tennessee flag, yelling charge going into battle on Friday night,” Vols coach Tony Vitello said.
Dallas was never supposed to be Tennessee’s top starter.
The Vols recruited the 5-foot-11, 206-pound Dallas out of Panola College in Texas with plans of him being a right-handed reliever.
“We thought he would be a great bullpen arm for us or maybe even a potential closer,” said Vitello,
Dallas started the final weekend game while at Panola but was open to any role at Tennessee. He set out to earn the coaching staff’s trust in fall 2019.
In the spring, he found out how successful he was. Tennessee’s expected ace Garrett Crochet, a 2020 MLB Draft first-round pick who is with the Chicago White Sox, was sidelined with shoulder soreness as the 2020 season opener neared.
“We went from being from very comfortable with our pitching options to our cage being rattled a little bit,” Vitello said.
The Vols staff called Dallas, Jackson Leath, Chase Wallace and Elijah Pleasants into a meeting. Vitello and pitching coach Frank Anderson let the group know they trusted them to start until Crochet returned.
Vitello was confident Dallas would be the choice. But he didn’t tell the players until the Thursday before their season opener against Western Illinois on Feb. 14, 2020.
“Emotions were kind of going crazy for everybody with everybody showing their excitement,” Dallas said. “It was a fun little team huddle.”
Dallas allowed one hit and struck out four in five innings to lead Tennessee to a 3-0 win to open the season.
“It became, well, this guy has a commanding presence, the guys rally behind him, and this might be a long-term answer opposed to a short-term answer,” Vitello said.
Dallas quickly owned the Friday role as a sophomore. His teammates bought in behind him, especially as it became evident Crochet would be sidelined for more than a start.
Dallas cemented himself in the role when Tennessee played in the Round Rock Classic in Texas. In front of friends and family, Dallas dominated No. 1 Texas Tech with eight strikeouts in five innings as UT won 6-2.
“You started to buy into the fact that he is going to take a chunk of innings in SEC play as well,” Vitello said.
Dallas’ success starts with a competitive nature that Vitello talks about often.
He grew up in Orange, Texas, in a baseball family — his dad, Tony, also played at Panola, and his brother, Jack, is a pitcher at Lamar University. Everything was a competition.
“If it was at the dinner table, trying to eat the fastest — maybe not the best idea, but we did,” Dallas said. “We always found something we could compete at. That is what we enjoyed.”
Dallas’ competitive streak is visible on the mound and establishes his approach in attacking hitters. He centers on his fastball command and landing breaking balls where he wants them in the right counts.
He’s a strike-thrower before he’s a strikeout pitcher, a recipe that has led him to an 11-1 record with 112 strikeouts to 21 walks in 93 ⅓ innings at Tennessee.
“I feel like if I am not going to go out there and give it my all, then I don’t need to go out there and waste the team’s time,” Dallas said.
Dallas has never come out of the bullpen at Tennessee.
Vitello admitted he would have shrugged his shoulders and been surprised if he knew Dallas would have turned into a multi-year Friday night starter when UT recruited him. He is glad it worked out that way.
“He has earned our trust in that role because of the type of kid he is,” Vitello said. “There is a level of comfort there and a level of confidence you will get better parts and version of our players around him because of that rallying effect.”
Dallas came back in 2021 and earned the role again. He said he sat himself down in the fall and reminded himself to keep working. He then added a second breaking ball to his arsenal, helping to cement his status.
“It means a lot because it shows the coaches are giving you the first chance to attack an SEC team, “Dallas said. “They trust you to throw that first punch and set the tone for the whole team and for the whole weekend.”
“Size is for the eyes,” Dallas said. “Wins are for the stats.”