By Billy Watkins
It was a moment neither father nor son will forget.
A few days after suffering a torn ACL on April 5 last season and refusing season-ending surgery, Ole Miss first basemen Tim Elko sent his parents, John and Cheryl, a video.
“He’d gotten his knee brace and he was walking around on it,” John recalled this week. “He said, ‘Look, it’s like I have a new leg!’ “
A family of strong faith, John said to his son: “I feel like God is going to work a miracle here.”
“I do, too, Dad,” Tim said. “I can feel it.”
What happened next has been well documented. Thirty-three days after the injury, subbing as a pinch-hitter, Elko hit a three-run homer during a win at Texas A&M. Even the Aggies’ fans who knew his story applauded him around the bases.
“Naturally, he was devastated immediately after the injury,” his dad said. “But after that first day or so, I never really saw him down. We raised Tim and our daughter (Catie) by the book — the Bible. Tim’s been saved since he was seven or eight years old. He’s just always had a faith about him, and he’s not afraid to show it.”
Of course, much good has come Tim’s way since that home run. The most obvious, of course, is that Elko and his Ole Miss teammates begin their quest of a national championship at the College ‘World Series in Omaha beginning Saturday night at 6 against Auburn.
“This is what Tim came back for,” John Elko said.
And this is why John and Cheryl relocated from Lutz, Fla. to a condo in Oxford for the baseball season. A pharmacist, John has “semi-retired” at age 62. They missed only a handful of games — one of them being Tim’s finale at Swayze Field. But they had a fine excuse: Their eldest child, Catie, graduated from the University of Florida’s School of Medicine on the same day.
They’ve watched Tim put up numbers this season that rank him among the elite power hitters in the SEC: .302 average, 22 homers, 71 RBIs, 10 doubles, 57 runs scored.
They’ve watched the lineups after the final game of each series, when the two teams come together to shake hands. Many opponents hug Tim, instead.
And perhaps the loudest tweet across Mississippi this past week was aimed at Elko. It came from former Mississippi State slugger Tanner Allen, the 2021 SEC Player of the Year and a leader on last year’s national championship team.
Now a player in the Miami Marlins’ organization. Allen tweeted: “If I had a son I’d want his role model to be @TimElko. I respect the way you and the rest of your team has handled the critics all year long and still found your way to Omaha…best of luck. #TGBTG” (To God Be The Glory)
Tim said during a meeting with the media the tweet “meant a lot.”
It meant a lot to the family, too.
“Baseball is unique,” John said.”All these guys on these teams … I know the fans have one idea about things, but the players live in a different world. We don’t really understand their world because we’re not in it. That was beautiful, what Tanner did. A premier player in the SEC, and he and Tim started talking when Tim was hurt. When it gets down to it, they’re all in the same club.”
Tim had a decision to make after Ole Miss came up one game short of Omaha last season. He already had earned a degree in exercise science, a precursor to physical therapy. He had a minor in business. He didn’t have to come back to school.
But what he didn’t have was the experience of playing in Omaha.
Tim underwent corrective surgery, rehabbed the knee as if the program’s life depended on it and was ready on Opening Day. He also completed a Master’s in sports analytics.
The Rebels were dominant through 14 games. They were ranked No. 1 in the country. And then …. they lost four straight SEC series and all the mojo, confidence and national attention turned to dust.
Social media was brutal. Armed with computers and anonymous screen names, faceless typists ripped players, administration and head coach Mike Bianco, who had piled up wins, made it to Regionals and Super Regionals but had led Ole Miss to Omaha just once in 20 years. The online posters screamed for a coaching change.
“People need to understand, the families of these kids read that stuff,” John said. “I now have close to 700 people blocked on my Twitter account.
“The truth is, those people writing all that stuff, they don’t know what’s happening, why it’s happening, And I didn’t like the way they went after Coach Bianco.”
Funny thing, John saw the season start to turn for the better during a series loss at Arkansas April 29-May 1).
“There was a glimmer of kinda how they were playing at the beginning of the year,” he said.
Ole Miss has gone 13-3 since that point, including sweeps of LSU in Baton Rouge and Missouri in Oxford, plus a 5-0 run in the Regional and Super Regional against Arizona, Miami and Southern Miss.
In those five wins, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Elko put up absurd numbers: .500 with 3 homers, 10 RBIs, 8 runs scored and 5 walks.
It’s Father’s Day weekend, and the Elkos will spend it in Omaha.
Like most dads, John Elko will reminisce the path that led them here.
All those years Tim played baseball and soccer, changing uniforms on the way from one game to another.
All those pitches he threw to his son, demanding that he hit the outside pitches to the opposite field.
Watching Tim say goodbye to soccer and hello to baseball full time. “We play year-round in Florida, and you could not get the boy off the baseball field,” John remembers. “He loves the game.”
Taking his son, the 16th-rated prospect in talent-rich Florida, on his first recruiting trip — Ole Miss — and realizing Tim was comparing every SEC and ACC school he visited after that to what he’d seen in Oxford.
“Tim made the perfect choice for him,” John said. “And now to have it all come down to playing in Omaha, it’s like a dream. All our players went through so much. They have always been a close team. But I think adversity often brings players even closer together.
“And here we are — the bubble team no one thought would get into the postseason.”