Seven Questions for UNLV Baseball Coach Tim Chambers

The baseball coach on turning around the Rebels, being a Hall of Famer, shaking the fear out of Bryce Harper and potentially leaving the town he loves

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

You haven’t even turned 50, yet on May 30, you’ll be among five inductees into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. What was your reaction when you heard the news?

I actually starting crying in front of my two daughters. I said to them, “This isn’t supposed to happen until you’re done.” I feel like I have 20 or 25 more years in me. But it’s humbling. You can go around the country and [not] many guys get to coach nine years of high school, 11 years of junior college and I’m in my fourth year at UNLV—three different levels, all in the same city.

One of my best shortstops of all time [Kurt Anthony] lives in Nebraska, and he showed up at the [UNLV] games [in Omaha] with his little kids last weekend. Everybody thinks it’s about baseball, but it’s really not. It’s about raising kids. At the end of the day, when they come back and hug your neck, and they’re 40, and they say, “Thanks for kicking me in the ass,” it’s pretty rewarding.

The Rebels are 22-9 and ranked in multiple Top 25 polls. Is the program where you envisioned it would be when you took over four years ago?

Trust me, I’m not arrogant. But when I got the Bishop Gorman job at [age] 24, they hadn’t made the playoffs in [more than 35 years]; we didn’t miss it for eight straight. We didn’t have junior college sports in Nevada until the summer of ’99 when I started the CSN [College of Southern Nevada] program, and I said, “In four years, we’re going to be a powerhouse.” And we won the national championship in our fourth year, and then made it back again in 2010.

So when I took this job, I said, “When I started coaching baseball in this town, there were 10 Class 4A high schools. Now there are 37. If we keep the local kids here, we can turn this thing around.” That was the goal. So, yes, we are where I thought we were gonna be. And this community needs to grasp onto it, because it’s a really good team. If you’re a baseball fan, you want to see this team play. They’re special.

What are your realistic expectations for the rest of this season?

The players think they’re going to Omaha [for the College World Series]. I’m not going to tell them they’re not. Fresno State was a No. 4 seed five years ago, and they won the national championship. Our pitching is going to carry us a long way. We’re gonna have a chance to win a bunch of games, because we pitch really well. If some things had been different, a couple of hits here and there, we could be undefeated right now. We’ve lost five games by one run; we lost three games by two runs, and we’ve won 22 games. … If we stay healthy, we can go a long way.

You coached Bryce Harper for one season at CSN in 2010. What’s the last piece of advice you gave him?

When we finished the season [losing in the National Junior College World Series], we cialis online pills came home and he was sitting in the locker room—everybody else was gone—and I could hear somebody crying. So I went back and said, “What are you crying about?” He said, “I’m afraid.” And I said, “Don’t be afraid. You’re ready. It’s time for you to go and do what you’re supposed to do. This is what you’ve been put here for.” He was 17, he knew what was about to happen, and he was afraid. He said, “I love you,” and then he signed all his gear and gave it to me, then gave me a hug and left.

Greg Maddux at age 21 vs. Bryce Harper at age 21:Who wins that battle?

Bryce. Greg, who is a good friend, wasn’t ready at that level at 21. The thing people don’t realize is that Bryce left high school after his sophomore year. He was playing with men and killing it, breaking our [CSN] records, breaking college baseball records. And he won the Golden Spikes Award as a junior college player, which never happens. Greg is probably the smartest of all of them, and that’s why he lasted so long. He learned how to pitch. But Bryce is 240 pounds [at age 21]; he’s a huge man with tremendous ability.

What’s one thing every Little League parent should know?

When you’re little, the game sucks so bad—you’re basically just standing out there. So whatever it is that your kid wants to do, let them do it. Today, it’s all about [club] baseball, and they move around from team to team to team. And you want to say, “Just let them play Little League.” I played football, wrestling, track and soccer—I played everything in high school. I lettered in five sports. Now, they play baseball, and that’s it. Let them decide what they want to do. If you shove it down their throat, they’re going to be out of the game by the time they’re 12—I guarantee it.

How long do you see yourself staying in Las Vegas?

I want to die here. I envision myself turning this program into a Top-20 team every year, but certain situations present themselves, and at the end of the day, you have to take care of your kids and your wife. So I really can’t answer that question. I know that the calls are coming [from other schools]. So whatever happens, for me to take care of my family, that’s what decision I’ll make when that time comes. And it’s gonna come. I know that. But I also know that I want to stay here. I’ve raised my kids here, I’ve coached in this town for 26 years; I don’t want to leave this town.

Who’s the best player not named Bryce Harper that you’ve coached?

The best player I’ve ever coached, including Bryce, is Sean Kazmar. He’s in Triple A with the Braves; he’s been in Triple A for six years now. He’s a little guy [5-foot-9]. Ironically, Bryce Harper, [UNLV star pitcher] Erick Fedde and Kazmar all went to Las Vegas High School. But Sean Kazmar is the best baseball player I’ve ever coached; Bryce Harper is the best talent I’ve ever coached. And the most competitive player I’ve ever coached is Erick Fedde.

If you could’ve been any major league player, past or present, who would it have been?

Lenny Dykstra, because that’s the way I played. I played hard. I was different as a player than I am as a coach. If you played against me, you hated my guts. If I was on your team, you loved me. I played the game really hard, and I expect my guys to play the game really hard. But I’ve changed over the years with my two daughters. They’ve kinda softened me. My 6-year-old calls me “Crybaby.” I probably went from age 12 to 30 without crying, and now I cry at the drop of a hat.

Do you have any baseball-related superstitions?

Oh, yeah. I have a lot of Cherokee in me; I’m registered, actually. So I have what I call the reverse triangle triple mojo. I won’t say what it is, but basically I give a triple triangle and I spit Copenhagen all over the bats, then see if we can score some runs. But it’s the reverse triangle triple mojo. It’s mine; I created it.

Who’s the one major league manager, past or present, whose style is most like yours?

Tommy Lasorda, just because he’s charismatic, kinda off the cuff and sarcastic. I would consider myself a sarcastic coach who tries to make the game fun for the kids. We usually have a pile of candy in the dugout, and if a player starts pouting or whatever, I’ll go, “Just get a piece of candy and shut up.” The game is supposed to be fun, and when you put too much pressure on yourself, it’s not fun. Sometimes I have to tell my coaches to get off the panic button. Let them have fun; teach them to relax. You can’t play baseball unless you’re relaxed.

Have you started working on your induction speech yet?

I’m hoping I’m not going to be there. It’s May 30, and that’s the first day of the [NCAA] regionals. But, yes, we’re working on some video and pictures. But for me, that’s just the sprinkles on the cake. I didn’t have a father growing up, so I consider myself a dad to all these kids. Everything else outside of baseball is more important to me than baseball, and all these guys will tell you that. I wear them out for doing the wrong things. I don’t have a list of 100 rules. It’s go to school every day, play as hard as you can and be a good guy. If you don’t do those three things, you’re going to be out. And they get that.