- Tonya Simpson is an award-winning writer for ESPN. She is based in Raleigh, N.C. and can be reached at [email protected]
The last time Portland Pickles owner Alan Miller saw Dillon before he went missing, Dillon was dancing with locals on a Dominican Republic street corner. It was the final night of the collegiate baseball team’s trip to the island for the Caribbean Series this past winter, and Dillon was letting loose. The next day, when Miller arrived back home in Oregon, general manager Ross Campbell broke the news that one of the most popular members of his team hadn’t made it home.
“Ross sent us a text saying, ‘I got a weird message from Delta, and Dillon didn’t make his connection,'” Miller says. “He had to go through New York to get back to Portland. So, at that point, we’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s fine. I’m sure it’s fine.'”
But all was not fine. Dillon was stranded in New York City, 2,912 miles from his home, with no money or cellphone. Unbeknownst to Dillon and the Pickles family at the time, being lost by Delta was only Act 1 in his perilous journey. Seventeen days of untold dangers lay ahead for the lonely fellow who, since 2015, has made a career of delighting fans as they relish in the summertime joys of America’s pastime.
“Dillon is like gravity. When Dillon is around, he just attracts everyone and everything,” says Chris Matthews, a season-ticket holder and president of the Pickles booster club, The Briners. “When he was gone … the town stopped.”
It is probably pertinent at this point to mention that Dillon is a 7-foot-tall pickle who is technically the summer wooden-bat team’s mascot, but who is also much more than that. In a city of serious Trail Blazers, Thorns and Timbers, Dillon is an embodiment of Portland’s dedication to all things weird and wonderful.
He is the sun in the Pickles’ universe; he is the first chair in the symphony of merry absurdity that is any game inside Walker Stadium. From a first pitch thrown by a kilt-clad Darth Vader unicyclist playing a set of flaming bagpipes to a nightly ritual of fans chug-racing a full cup of pickle brine, to actual, real tattoos given out every Tuesday, Dillon is the ringleader of a chaotic two-month-long summer festival where it just so happens that baseball is also played.
So it was with bated breath that fans and the Pickles’ staff waited for updates from Delta on the well-being of their beloved pickle.
“We reported him missing to Delta as soon as I got to Portland that same night and he didn’t come through baggage claim,” says Campbell, the general manager. “We messaged and emailed them a few times in that week, and when we weren’t getting any traction, we took it to social media, which forced Delta to respond and get on it.”
A week passed with Dillon crushed among his personal effects inside an anonymous black duffel bag in a fluorescent-lit sea of other anonymous black duffel bags before he was on his way back across the U.S.
A crucial detail was lost in the shuffle, though: when exactly Dillon was due to be delivered to the Pickles’ office, which is a converted historic home in Portland’s Lents neighborhood. He was left on the porch after business hours, which meant enduring one more cold February night for Dillon.
But just before the light of day could reach his tired, briny eyes, Dillon’s weeklong nightmare got worse. At 4:58 a.m. on Feb. 9, the doorbell camera at the Pickles’ office shows a man wearing a backpack, headphones, a beanie and a mask strolling confidently up the porch steps, picking up the bag and walking away. The thief, presumably hoping for jewelry, electronics or designer clothes, had instead unknowingly kidnapped what may be the world’s most valuable pickle.
“That’s when we put the video out and said, ‘We need your help, Portland, the world,'” Miller says. “I firmly believed that if we put enough pressure on the culprit, at some point someone’s going to say or know something. You don’t just steal a 7-foot pickle and not tell all your friends about it.”
Immediately, worry and fear began to spread across the Pickle patch — but there was also the echo of a sentiment that would seem out of place to anyone unfamiliar with the Pickles: skepticism.
“Initially I was thinking, what are they doing? Is this for real, or is this a hoax?” Matthews says. “Because, yes, at times they attract attention to the team and Dillon when he gets on Twitter by himself.”
If, up until this point, you’ve felt a tug of recognition about this small summer league baseball team, it may be because less than a month before this saga began, the team became late-night talk-show fodder and the Twitter topic du jour after Dillon’s brief takeover of the team’s account. His first and only tweet from the @picklesbaseball handle was a picture the team swears was a thumbs-up and was simply misinterpreted by the corrupted minds of the public as Dillon T. Pickle’s pickle.
“He went for a thumbs-up. I don’t know what he was intending beyond just the thumbs-up,” Miller says. “You’ve got to understand, Dillon, his personality, he’s naive. I mean, he’s just a big pickle and he’s learning his way in the world.”
Once the community learned it was a real crime with a real, actual police report to prove it, the search began in earnest. Although a detective was never assigned to the case, Dillon’s photo and a missing pickle alert appeared on team sponsor Wickles Pickles jars. Local bars held search events where fans and concerned citizens gathered mostly to drink but also to walk through the park and see whether anyone had hastily dumped a very large pickle wearing a baseball jersey into a bush somewhere.
In the police report filed by Campbell, the team estimates Dillon’s worth at $7,000, or about $1,000 per pickle foot. Several local companies, including Voodoo Doughnut, came together to offer rewards for Dillon’s safe return that topped even his estimated worth.
On Feb. 16, a full week after Dillon was kidnapped and 17 days after he left the Dominican Republic, an anonymous good citizen walked into a Voodoo Doughnut location, 6 miles from the Pickles’ office and scene of the original crime, and dropped off the most sought-after piece of luggage in the greater Portland area. The local news reported Dillon’s savior saw some kids playing with the bag on a bus, and went to check it out after the kids left it behind. He then saw a glimpse of gherkin green peeking out and knew what he’d found.
He didn’t leave a name or a number with Voodoo Doughnut, either unaware of or uninterested in the various rewards — another mystery in a saga dense with unanswered questions.
“When I called Ross, I was like, Are you sitting down? Dillon just got dropped off,” says Shaina Hill with Voodoo Doughnut. “He was elated and I think in disbelief at the same time because it just came out of the blue.”
Campbell and the rest of the team, of course, were over the moon at Dillon’s (mostly) safe return.
“He had burn marks in places,” Miller says. “He smelled like he had smoked at least five packs of cigarettes. Dillon’s [time] away from us looked like the journey to hell. “
The team called a news conference for the next morning in front of the doughnut shop where he was found. Dillon appeared alongside Campbell and Parker Huffman, assistant general manager, looking like he’d spent a week undergoing a violent interrogation.
“I’m happy to announce, THRILLED to announce, that Dillon T. Pickle was recovered,” Campbell proclaimed to the sound of cheers. “As you can see, he’s a little bruised up — he’s got a couple Band-Aids on, but we’ve said from the beginning, we can just put him back into the jar to replenish his powers. Dillon will be in recovery for a couple weeks. It’s clear he’s been through some things, and it’s obviously been a traumatic experience for Dillon.”
Dillon, who has never been available for comment because he is a pickle, has not yet been able to speak to friends or teammates about his experience. The team hopes to help him work through his trauma this offseason, but Dillon seems happy to be back in the land of cornichon-topped cheesecake and dizzy bats.
Things aren’t totally back to normal, however.
“I think his attitude is a little different now. He’s a little hardened. Eight days on the streets of Portland is no joke,” Miller says. “He’s been very different this season. … He’s definitely way off-script, and we may not be able to contain it much longer.”
Once just an innocent gherkin who loves summertime and baseball, Dillon showed an edge this season. He tackled a streaker, threw concessions in the face of a rival fan, got a little too into pro wrestling night, which resulted in being thrown through a table, and gave fake high-fives to the opposing team — all while beaming his unwavering, toothless grin.
“I don’t want to say that Dillon’s flipped over to the dark side, but I think Dillon might be flipping over to the dark side, and that dark side being anything goes, it seems,” Matthews says. “If you’re going to mess with Dillon, you’re going to get the brine, and that’s that.”
Though he still has lots of recovery ahead of him, the team promises Dillon will never ride in cargo again. Hopefully, it will also never again have a dry cleaner ask for a deposit for the daunting task of restoring the lovely, vinegary scent to a pickle who otherwise smelled like he’d been baptized in bong water.
Lest we forget there is an actual baseball team at the center of all this revelry and madness, the Pickles finished a 36-18 season with their first playoff appearance since 2018. They faced the Ridgefield Raptors and trailed by three runs headed into the seventh inning of Game 2 when Eddie Saldivar Jr. knocked a three-run homer to tie the game. In another Pickles tradition, chairs (and babies) were raised, the rally gator soared, and for two more innings, hope was as abundant in Walker Stadium as pickle puns.
Alas, it wasn’t enough, as the Pickles lost 7-5. Although a championship would have been a fitting end to the season celebrating Dillon’s triumphant return, he seems pretty content just to be back among his friends and hitting the gym.
“The Pickles and what the community is trying to do is make something fun for everyone,” Matthews says. “If you’re interested in the sport of baseball, for sure come out, and if you’re not, for sure come out and just party with us anyway.”
Some of baseball history’s greatest comeback stories are borne out of an injury or a slump, but Dillon has redefined the genre by returning from the precipice of tragedy to his post as pied piper of Portland’s prized Pickles. As the sun sets on another season for the team, his story abides as a reminder to hold your loved ones close and your pickles closer.
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