By MARINA WATERS
“I’ve waited my whole life,” David Crockett High School senior Landon Quillen said after signing his letter of intent to play baseball at King College. “All my years of playing baseball have all built up to one moment in signing to play in college. It’s what I worked so hard for.
“I was excited but it was nerve wracking just because it is signing away the next four years of my life.”
Quillen is a three-year varsity baseball player for the Pioneers and has been dreaming of his chance to play college baseball since he first fell in love with the sport.
But if you asked him who got him started on America’s pastime, it’d take him no time at all to give his grandfather on his mother’s side all the credit.
“He was my world. He was my guy,” Quillen said. “He introduced me to baseball. He was always there for me, showed me everything I needed to know and taught me everything.
“He raised me on baseball. It was always what baseball game was on, he was telling me stories — I just fell in love with it and I was like, ‘I want to play this in college. I want to pursue a future in this.’ I just fell in love with the game.”
Quillen’s grandfather passed away when the high school senior was 15. And though Quillen’s heart has been with baseball since his grandfather instilled in him his love for the game, Quillen almost decided to lay his days on the diamond to rest. Then he thought about what his grandfather would say.
“I had been accepted into ETSU, Carson-Newman, Tusculum, but I wanted to play ball,” Quillen said. “I knew that if I looked back like 10 or 15 years from now, I couldn’t say I didn’t try to play college baseball somehow. I was kind of juggling, ‘Do I go to school, get my degree and go to work, or do I try to pursue baseball?’ And in the back of my mind I was like, ‘He would want me to play. He would want to come watch me.’”
It’s not just been about loving the game for Quillen, who has spent his high school career as the Pioneer’s starting shortstop; Quillen also said his road to signing day has been paved in passion and hard work. And that work started over almost every year.
The DCHS baseball program has only seen four coaches in its entire history, but Quillen has worked under three of them. And with new coaches nearly each year comes a yearly battle for a spot on the field and the lineup.
“You’re not promised a position every single year,” Quillen said. “So it’s crazy. That’s kind of why I’m okay going to college and having a new staff because it’s just nothing new. It’s just fighting again for another position.
“All the years I’ve been there I’ve had to work for a position. Just because a new face comes in, he might not know who you are. You’ve gotta just earn what you get. Anything in life worth having is worth working for.”
But there will be some familiarity for Quillen’s senior season as Spencer Street will be at the helm of the Pioneer program.
Street, who will start his first season as the Pioneer’s head baseball coach after serving as an assistant coach at Daniel Boone High School, was a part of Quillen’s foundation as a ball player, particularly the summer of Quillen’s sophomore year.
“He really helped me that summer,” Quillen said. “He taught me a lot of things I had never known before that because the coaching I received from my high school teams just wasn’t what he was bringing to the table. Now we’ve got him as our head guy. He’s brought in a great staff, he helps me with my hitting, he gets us in the weight room, he’s setting us up as a program, he’s getting us new stuff. He’s just been a massive help to me.”
As Quillen’s final season at Crockett approaches, he’s not just planning to put in work on the diamond; he also aims to lend a hand in building the program for the Pioneers.
Though the high school senior said he’s looking forward to getting out on the field with his teammates and friends, Quillen said he’s most looking forward to continuing to set the mode for younger members of the DCHS baseball team.
“Setting the base of how things should be done, showing the younger kids and getting after it in the weight room, staying after and doing extra reps (is exciting),” Quillen said. “When I was coming up, we had good seniors, but all of our seniors were not bought in. They were just kind of playing. And this year we’ve got all of our seniors bought in.
“It shows the younger kids how hard they need to work to the level that we want to be to where we’re winning districts, winning regionals and fighting in the state tournament.”
Quillen said he’s ready to move up to the college level and keep playing the game he loves. He’ll also be honoring the man who introduced him to it all back when he was just a kid with a hunger to learn about the sport of baseball.
“I wish he would have been there (for signing day),” Quillen said. “I would give the world, today, right now, for him to have been there. And that was in the back of my mind. I was like, ‘If he were here, what would he say?’
“He would be beyond proud of me.”