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Tim Elko envisioned himself in the...

Tim Elko envisioned himself in the Bigs, not in bronze

By: Parrish Alford - May 7, 2024

  • Elko and his special relationship with Ole Miss fans is symbolic of why college baseball means more in Mississippi.

Tim Elko, like many young players, was a baseball constant in Lutz, Florida, a Tampa suburb, crushing extra-base hits, running bases and chasing dreams.

Elko and his mates could see themselves playing baseball in the SEC or ACC, a pitstop before the Big Leagues.

The college baseball great envisioned a lot of things, though maybe not his bronze likeness forever anchored outside one of college baseball’s top venues. But a statue of Elko now sits just steps from Swazye Field at Ole Miss. 

“No, I probably didn’t envision that. I just always imagined myself being a Major League baseball player. I will say it’s really a pretty amazing honor that I’m able to have there at Swayze Field,” Elko said.

Elko still envisions himself in the Big Leagues. For now, he’s still at a pitstop where he’s hitting .250 with five doubles and two home runs in 84 at-bats at Double-A Birmingham.

“I’m just trying to focus on where my feet are and getting better every single day,” he said.

Elko was a 10th-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2022, the same summer that he was the most recognizable player in Ole Miss’ run to the national championship.

Elko, a college baseball rarity who stayed around for a second COVID-19 senior season, hit .300 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs in his finale. He was second-team All-SEC, third-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and made the all-tournament team in Omaha.

He had a home run and drove in three in the second-round CWS win against Arkansas that set up the Rebels in the winner’s bracket. He was 4-for-5 with a home run and three runs scored in Game 1 of the finals against Oklahoma.

The legend of Tim Elko began in that first senior season. Though dripping with potential at 6-foot-4, 240, he hit just .212 as a sophomore in 2019. COVID shortened the 2020 season – He was hitting .354 when it ended — but in 2021 he hit .325 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs.

The Rebels depended on his bat and felt the void when he tore his ACL the first week of April. But the pain was manageable, and Elko was back on the field in less than a month, wearing a brace and serving as the DH. 

Elko had seven home runs on a torn ACL and helped the Rebels to a super regional at Arizona. He had a two-home run game with five RBIs in the Oxford Regional championship game against Southern Miss.

He had successful surgery later that June and was ready to do for the start of the 2022 season.

The effort endeared him to Ole Miss fans, and that special relationship was symbolic of why college baseball means more in Mississippi.

Elko hopes it will become special at Ole Miss again soon.

Mississippi State and Ole Miss both found the bottom tier of the SEC standings after winning national championships.

The Rebels continue that struggle this season. A State fan explained to me, “It’s a two-year curse.”

Indeed, there’s a regional host buzz around the Bulldogs, the 2021 national champions, who are hoping to play at home this postseason after two years away from NCAA regionals. They’re 32-16 overall, 14-10 in the SEC with two weekends left after a series win over Alabama.

The Rebels won twice this past weekend, but on Sunday missed an opportunity to sweep Auburn. They remain tied with LSU, last year’s national champion, at 9-15 in conference play.

“They’ve had some games where they look really good. I think it’s in there. I think they’ve shown that on some weekends,” Elko said. “They’ve got fight, and they’ve got great players. I think we could see them get back on track.”

Two years after facing Auburn in the CWS opener the Rebels have a five-game lead on Auburn, a two-game lead on Missouri. If that holds the Rebels will make the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama after missing the field last year. 

The final regular season weekend at LSU could go a long way in determining that.

Elko, in his second full season with the White Sox organization is hoping his pitstop ends with a call-up.

“I was invited to Big League spring training which was an awesome experience, getting to meet and play with all of our Big League guys and managers. I learned a lot and had a lot of fun,” he said.

One of his primary goals this summer is to cut down his strikeout numbers. It’s a delicate balance.

“I’m trying to focus on hitting strikes and making good contact, trying to be on base and help my team win, but at the same time not letting that take away from my power. I’m trying to be a little more conscious of pitch selection,” he said.

Pitch selection matters more than ever as Elko finds his way because command from the pitchers he’s facing day in and day out is generally a higher clip than he saw from day to day in college.

“Guys are just sharp. Sliders are a little sharper, fastballs a little harder. They hit their spots really well. There are a lot less pitches in the middle of the plate, so when you do get those pitches, you’ve got to pounce,” he said.

He hopes there are enough pitching mistakes and enough pouncing to play on Chicago’s south side at some point this season.

“You never know what the guys in the front office are thinking. I’m just trying to get better every single day, and hopefully I do get that opportunity up there whether it’s this year or next year.”

He hasn’t been back to Oxford to see that statue yet but hopes to get there when his schedule permits.

“I’m obviously super-honored. It’s amazing. It kind of started on Twitter back in 2021 with the ACL stuff. It’s pretty crazy how fast it happened, how quick they were able to do it, but it came out great. It looks awesome. I know they’ll get more of our national championship stuff around it later on.”

About the Author(s)
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Parrish Alford

Parrish Alford brings the cumulative wisdom that comes from three decades of covering Mississippi sports to Magnolia Tribune. His outstanding contributions to sports reporting in the state have twice been recognized with Sports Writer of the Year awards. Alford currently serves as the associate editor of American Family News.