Texas A&M-Kingsville head coach Jason Gonzalez has always enforced a “no facial hair policy” for his players, but he has bent his own rules a bit this season, with good reason.

When Jaden Dillon returned from winter break in January with a full beard, Gonzalez reminded him it was time to shave. But Dillon wasn’t ready for a clean-shaven look, and negotiated a deal with Gonzalez to keep the scruff. 

“I talked to Coach about letting me keep it until I lost a game,” Dillon said. “We made a deal and I haven’t lost.”

On the season, Dillon has compiled a spotless 8-0 record along with a Lone Star Conference-leading 1.39 ERA. Dillon is not sure he’ll ever shave again, and Gonzalez is hoping he won’t have to.

In his last start on April 20, the TAMUK athletics department hosted a “Fear the Beard” promotion, and gave away 125 fake beards in honor of Dillon’s facial hair and accomplishments on the mound.

“He’s probably the most unassuming player on the team, and if there is anyone who probably would not want to be part of something like that, it would be him,” Gonzalez said. “He doesn’t crave the attention.”

But seeing all of the Dillon look-a-likes pumped him up a little bit. On the mound, he was masterful, throwing a one-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in the victory against Eastern New Mexico, and garnered LSC Pitcher of the Week honors for his performance.

“I was really excited about it,” Dillon said. “I was happy that the school would honor me that way.  It was a special night for me … I enjoyed it.”

Dillon transferred to TAMUK from McNeese State where he pitched for three seasons, including a stellar 8-0 record in his sophomore campaign. His junior season did not go so well (1-3, 10.46 ERA in 16 appearances), and Dillon was looking to shake things up with a change of environment.

“He has come in here and has absolutely thrived,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a lot of fun to be around. He feels like he has a new lease on life being able to come in here and have a lot of fun, which he wasn’t doing the last three years.”

During summer ball in the Texas Collegiate League, Dillon added a change-up to his repertoire and posted a 7-1 mark with a 2.48 ERA, earning all-star honors.

When he arrived at TAMUK, pitching coach Rick Heines took Dillon’s development a step further.

“My summer coach helped me a lot with my change-up, and then Coach Heines said I needed to develop a slider,” Dillon said. “I told him I had tried to throw a slider in the past and it wasn’t very successful. He started working with me and within a week I had a really good slider. He’s helped me develop tremendously as a four-pitch guy. I couldn’t ask for a better senior year.”

“[Heines] has done an excellent job with him in the bullpen,” Gonzalez said. “He came here with excellent mechanics, but our pitching coach taught him a slider, which he wasn’t throwing when he got here. He just wanted to be coached and wanted to learn.”

Dillon stands just 5’11”, and does not look like a power pitcher, but Gonzalez said his looks are deceiving. 

He’s had scouts at just about every one of his games. He’s a definite prospect.
-- Texas A&M-Kingsville coach Jason Gonzales

“When you look at him, you really don’t expect to see that type of velocity coming out of his arm, but he’s been pitching upwards of 95 or 96 miles per hour,” Gonzalez said. “We saw him pitch this summer and didn’t really think he was throwing that hard. During our fall practices, our hitters didn’t think he was throwing that hard. It is a little misleading because he is so effortless when he throws. It’s such an easy delivery, plus he’s a great competitor and has a great arm.”

Dillon has fanned 77 batters in 64.2 innings pitched, compared to allowing just 17 walks. Opponents are batting just .185 against him. Dillon is ranked 11th nationally in ERA, and is 19th in Division II with 10.71 strikeouts per nine innings.

Gonzalez says Dillon has gotten a lot of attention, and not because he resembles the full-bearded San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson. 

“He’ll have a chance to play professional baseball,” Gonzalez said. “He’s had scouts at just about every one of his games. He’s a definite prospect.”

“All I want is a chance,” Dillon said. “We’ll see if they give me a chance and we’ll see what happens.”

Before the Major League Baseball Draft in June, however, TAMUK and Dillon are looking to make a run in the postseason. The Javelinas are tied for first place in the Lone Star Conference with only one week of regular-season action remaining.

“We control our own destiny in terms of playing for a championship, so it is an exciting time,” Gonzalez said. “Jaden has been a big part of that. He makes me look like a really good coach when he’s on the mound.”