See also: Northwoods League Notes – August 9
Coming into his collegiate career Tim Elko was already a highly decorated player. One of the top-ranked prospects from the high school class of 2017, Elko is a native of Lutz, Fla., located near Tampa, and despite the number of prominent programs located within the Sunshine State, he opted to take his talents to the University of Mississippi.
You won’t miss Elko on a baseball diamond given his physical 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame. The strength that goes with that kind of stature translates to the right-handed batter’s box where he has impressive power potential, and despite his hulking size he has the ability to play both third base and first base in addition to either corner outfield spot.
He attended Hillsborough High School and played with the Orlando Scorpions during the summer months, one of the more decorated travel teams in the nation. The Scorpions roster was essentially a who’s who of top prospects as he played alongside current college stars Reese Albert (Florida State), Jack Leftwich (Florida) and Jud Fabian (Florida), among others, as well as his three-year teammate at Ole Miss, Anthony Servideo.
For as much fanfare as he received prior to stepping foot on campus in Oxford, Miss., Elko struggled to find his groove at the plate during his first two years with the Rebels. In 2018 as a freshman he batted .216 with one home run in 29 games played, 11 of which were starts. In 2019 he hit .212 with two home runs in 32 games, 19 of which were starts.
“I don’t think there were a lot of different things in my preparation,” Elko said looking back at his first two years in college as compared to his abbreviated 2020 campaign. “I was hitting all of the time in getting ready for those first couple of seasons. Stuff just started to click and I got confidence and felt like I was one of the guys. I was trying to be a good leader and teammate.”
That alone is why the 2020 season was especially disappointing for Elko. Entering his draft-eligible season the slugger was slashing .354/.373/.667 and already matched his home run total (3) in just 14 games. After losing their first game of the season to No. 1 Louisville, Ole Miss had won 16 straight games heading into SEC play.
In-conference games are the true gauntlet in the SEC, and the SEC West in particular has been especially grueling the past couple of years. Their first three scheduled opponents were to be LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas, all of whom were ranked, and the Rebels really felt good about their chances.
“We knew we had a really good team,” Elko said. “We felt like we were gonna go to Omaha. We just had great camaraderie. Everybody truly loved each other and wanted to play for each other, win for each other. Nobody was selfish and just caring about themselves, it was all about the team. Going out there, having fun and playing baseball like we had our whole lives.”
For as good as Ole Miss has been in recent years they haven’t been to the College World Series since 2014. Head coach Mike Bianco is considered one of the best in the business, and the baseball facilities in Oxford are considered among the best in college baseball.
Ole Miss has made the NCAA Tournament 16 times in Bianco’s 20 seasons as the team’s head coach, and while they advanced to the Super Regional round in six of those years, they’ve only done so twice in the last decade. There just seemed to be something different with the 2020 squad, however, and Elko – appointed a team captain by his teammates – really likes the mix of talent and personalities that are returning for the 2021 season.
“I just try to be myself and let all the guys be themselves too,” Elko said of his own responsibilities. “They’re all really good players, I don’t have to do a whole lot, just kind of keep everyone in check and get them to play at their level and play for each other. Play for our team, our family. That’s really what we are and that’s how we’ll be successful.”
Part of Elko’s baseball journey has included a pair of stops in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, playing his summer ball in the Northwoods League each of the last two years. His first time in the league in 2019 was planned well in advance, as his options were more limited coming off of a challenging sophomore season. The summer of 2020 was put together more at the last moment, knowing options were limited due to the global coronavirus pandemic that claimed the spring season on March 12.
If there’s one thing the Northwoods League provides its playing time with the longest season of any summer collegiate league that begins in late May and continues until the third week of August. During the summer of 2019 Elko appeared in 48 games and found comfort with the Dock Spiders immediately. He finished the summer hitting .297 with 14 extra-base hits, four of which were home runs, and 28 RBIs.
“I had a lot of fun last summer,” Elko said of his 2019 experience. “I loved the team, the coaches are great, my host family is great. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer experience. So after all the COVID stuff happened, of course I wanted to keep playing, my coaches called around the Cape and a lot of them had already had their teams filled up – they ended up getting canceled anyway.
“I hadn’t really planned to go anywhere yet this summer. My coach is like ‘you wanna play?’ And I was like ‘yeah.’ And he was like ‘you wanna go to the Northwoods?’ So I said, ‘yeah, if I go back to Fond du Lac. Here I am, and I couldn’t have asked for a better summer. Just getting to play, being around a lot of the same guys from last year and a lot of new guys, I made a lot of new friends. It’s been really, really fun.”
Although Elko didn’t stay until the end of the summer his teammates had so much fun that they won the Northwoods League championship for the Wisconsin/Illinois pod. They had also won the overall NWL championship two years prior in 2018.
Elko had an even bigger summer this past year, and he provided several big, big hits along the way that helped propel the Dock Spiders to their championship season. Through 27 games he slashed .351/.427/.565 and eight of his 46 hits were home runs; he also upped his RBI total to 32.
The Fond du Lac roster was somewhat similar to his travel team days in that there were a lot of big names. Elko hit in the heart of a lineup that included Parker Noland (Vanderbilt), John Rhodes (Kentucky), Taylor Jackson (Illinois) and Sam Novitske (Oregon), among others.
For all of Elko’s accomplishments on the field he takes a lot of pride in what he’s done off of it, in the classroom and for the community. And those accomplishments began immediately upon beginning his college career, being named to the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll every semester he’s been in school.
Those honors have only grown over his three years at Ole Miss, as Elko has twice been named to the SEC Academic Honor Rolls and in May was named to the SEC Community Service Team.
In addition to his involvement with student-based organizations, including the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Elko has been involved with Thanksgiving food drives for those in need, reading to elementary-aged students while also being involved with the Ole Miss Special Olympics.
With enough credits to graduate after just three years at Mississippi, thanks to taking college-based courses while in high school, Elko decided to push back his graduation so he could pursue a minor in business.
There’s also unfinished business on the baseball field.
“It’s just having excellence in every part of your life,” Elko said of his off-field service. “I’m not going to go into something and not give it everything I’ve got. Academics, giving back to the community (etc.) you gotta give everything you do 100 percent.
“Our community in Oxford is top-notch. I couldn’t ask for a better community, better fans, a better little town, little college town. Giving back to them is a pleasure. When you’re in the classroom, you get your work done in the classroom and you then get your work done on the field. It’s all-encompassing.”