It’s been a challenging couple of years for Kansas City Royals pitching prospect Daniel Tillo. No minor league season in 2020 meant no baseball. Then Tommy John surgery. He’s finally on track to return and maybe make his big league debut soon, but collectors have already gotten to know the Iowa native. He’s an avid collector and box breaker.
At Sioux City North High School in Sioux City, Iowa, Tillo was best known for another sport. After his senior season, he was named Iowa’s Mr. Basketball after averaging over 24 points, 9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. During that same senior high school season on the baseball diamond he went 5-1 with the 3.08 ERA and hit nearly .400 at the plate.
After a brief stop at the University of Kentucky, Till transferred to Iowa Western Community College. After his sophomore season, which was his first that Iowa Western, he won five games, had a sub 3.00 ERA and struck out 57 batters in only 44 innings. Following his standout sophomore season he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the third round of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft.
The up-and-coming lefty made his way through Rookie Level ball between two clubs and finished the season with a 3-2 record on the mound.
In 2018, he began the season in Class A ball throwing heat for the Lexington Legends. Eventually Till was promoted to the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Class A Advanced Carolina League.
He started the season Wilmington and was eventually promoted to Double A ball in the Texas League. In October of 2019, he was selected for the United States National Baseball Team. He didn’t record a win or loss but sported a 2.08 era in three relief appearances and struck out eight batters in just over four innings.
Tillo didn’t play a single game in 2020 due to the cancellation of the Minor League season caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In July of last year, he underwent Tommy John surgery. In November he was added to the 40-man roster but in May of this year he was placed on the 60-day injured list as he continued to rehab his arm. In late June, the 25-year-old began throwing with the Rookie Level Arizona Complex League Royals before recentltyy moving to rehab with Northwest Arkansas.
As he awaits his call to the majors, we caught up to him to talk about collecting his own cards, the players he looked up to as a youngster, collecting memorabilia throughout the minor leagues and much more.
Tony Reid-The autograph experience is such a special moment as a collector. You have had experience on the other side of the request as a professional pitcher yourself. Do you remember the first time you were asked for your signature?
Dan Tillo– It was my senior year of high school. I was just named Iowa’s Mr. Basketball. Someone had me sign the front of the newspaper that my big picture was on. It was pretty funny.
TR– You recently retweeted a post from a fan who you had an interaction with at the ballpark recently. What is your most memorable fan encounter?
DT– I have met great people through being fans of the game and fans of the Royals. I have met great people through card groups, being a big card collector. I have met people I consider friends now through cards, which is awesome. There are quite a bit of people I’ve met through being fans of the sport and just fans of cards.
TR–When an athlete sees themselves on a trading card for the first time it’s somewhat of a pinch me moment. Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on your 1st Bowman card?
DT– I saw it on eBay for the first time. Someone sent me a link to it. It was so cool! That was the fall of 2017.
TR–Did you manage to get your hands on any of those cards?
DT– Topps didn’t send me any cards at all. I never signed for Topps but I did sign for Panini. I was very thankful for that. I signed stickers for Panini in 2017. For my 2017 Bowman 1st, I have all of my cards except for my red paper Bowman. I have my Superfractor and I have my black paper 1 of 1, so I am just missing my red paper then I will have the complete rainbow.
TR–How much card collecting did you do as a kid coming up in the game?
DT– When I was around ten years old my older brother got me in the hobby. We had a card shop back in Sioux City, Iowa that he would go to. He got me locked into it. Each year at Christmas we would get a box of football cards and see who got the better boxes. We have done that for years now. I am 25 and my brother is 30, so she is still paying for hobby boxes of cards for our Christmas presents. I am very thankful to my mom for doing that but my brother definitely got me into the hobby.
TR–Being a pro and a collector as well, do you see things as collectibles that many other players don’t?
DT-Oh, yeah. Say Nick Pratto breaks a bat there have been times where I took his bat home. Right when Pratto and Bobby Witt, Jr. both got called up to Triple A I had just got out here to Arkansas for my rehab assignment. I got a text from my older brother asking if I would get a baseball with both Bobby and Pratto’s signature on it. I said ‘Sure. Fine.’ Again, it is my brother fueling me within the hobby whether it be cards or autographs. I have enjoyed it my whole life and I am going to continue to do it.
TR–As a collector and athlete, who were some of the people that inspired you growing up, whether it be on the field or in the hobby?
DT-I have always liked football, basketball and baseball. I always liked Derek Jeter. I wasn’t a Yankees fan, per se. I would say I like the Royals the most because they were the closest Major League team to me as a kid growing up. I have been to Kauffman Stadium quite a bit growing up. As far as football, I mean, you can’t not like Tom Brady. I am one that appreciates greatness. He is fun to watch. It’s crazy what he is doing at age 43. Being an owner of the Royals, I have to throw Patrick Mahomes in there, too.
TR–What card is your favorite card right now?
DT-The obvious answer is my 1 of 1 Superfractor, so I won’t say that. I will say the 2000 Bowman Chrome Tom Brady RC in a BGS 9.5. I bought that almost a year ago for a good price. The way the card market has gone it’s really gone up in the last year or so.
TR– You do grading reveals, breaks and other videos on YouTube. Can you talk about what inspired you to put yourself out there and give it a go?
DT-I like watching YouTube videos of card openings, PSA reveals, anything. I just figured that I would star doing it with my brother. Within the last few years Packercards87 open football boxes. That is what we have opened the most. He got us locked into that. I figured we should share our results. It’s fun to connect with people in the hobby. I am in season right now, so I haven’t been able to post for a few weeks. I am little busy now. I am trying to get my elbow right so I can be ready to pitch in a game here soon.
TR–Speaking of, you recently got back on the bump for the Double A Arkansas Naturals after elbow surgery. How great was it to put that jersey on and get back out there?
DT– Yeah, man. I won’t ever take it for granted again. Especially after the Covid season, I haven’t pitched in a competitive game since 2019. You miss the fans. You miss the atmosphere. You miss your teammates a lot. Being healthy, I don’t wish injury on anyone. There is a terrible long year of rehab and not being able to compete with your teammates is tough. It was along year. I have a way to go. Next year for 2022, it should be full on go. I should be 100%. I am trying to finish this season up. My elbow is a little tired and there is a way to go, so I am really looking forward to 2022, no doubt.