For Tim Salmon, being a high school coach is about ‘more than just baseball’
With the late afternoon sun illuminating his bright red quarter-zip jacket and ball cap, each displaying the logo of Scottsdale Christian Academy’s high school baseball team, Tim Salmon couldn’t take his eyes off the field before him.
It was a quaint venue, with a turf infield and three rows of seats to either side of home plate — nothing like the stadiums Salmon played in during his 14-year major league career.
But as he showed it to a visitor, the former Angels great smiled wide.
“My home away from home,” he said.
This will be Salmon’s seventh season as the head coach at Scottsdale Christian, the small private K-12 school north of Phoenix that each of his children attended.
When he first took the gig in 2015, nine years after his playing days were over, Salmon thought it would be a one-year commitment, a way to help out while one of his sons, Jacob, finished his senior season. After that, he decided to keep going until his youngest son, Ryan, graduated in 2018.
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But the longer he did it, the more Salmon appreciated all the little responsibilities that came with running the program.
In 2019, the first season without having one of his sons on the roster, Salmon’s team claimed Arizona’s 2A state championship, winning the title game in walk-off fashion at the Angels spring training home, Tempe Diablo Stadium.
And after last season was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, he was eager to return this spring — a job he never envisioned being part of his post-playing career having now become one he’s not ready to give up.
“You get to put your stamp behind everything,” he said. “I really dug it.”
And when Salmon says everything, he means everything. He makes the schedule. He communicates with parents. He works with school administration. He drives the short white team bus to games.
On this day, arriving at the field about an hour before his team’s latest preseason practice, he disappeared into a nearby utility shed and reemerged with a metal rake and dirt tamper.
“I need to check on my dirt,” he says. “Part of my job is field maintenance.”
It’s an uncommon role for a former player of Salmon’s stature. A World Series champion, Silver Slugger winner and American League rookie of the year, Salmon collected more than 1,600 hits, 1,000 RBIs and exactly 299 home runs — all good for second-most in Angels history — in 1,672 career games.
After retiring in 2006, he would help out with his kids’ Little League teams and guest instruct at some of their high school practices. But it wasn’t until he became the school’s head coach that he saw the impact he could make beyond the field, the chance to teach lessons about life.
“The season is only 2 1/2 months, but there’s always the one or two or maybe three little instances during the season that are very instrumental in a young man’s life that you were to help walk him through,” Salmon said. “You wake up in May and you kinda go, ‘That’s why it was worth it.’ It was more than just baseball.”
At first, Jacob was “shocked” to see his dad continue coaching the team after he and his brother had graduated. But he recognized how important Salmon’s “secondary relationships” with his other players had become, inviting them over to the family’s house or keeping in touch with them after they go to college.
Last year, Salmon took his team to the Dominican Republic as part of the school’s annual mission trip program.
“He’s got four kids himself, so he’s been through this, he’s so good at knowing where the kids are at and what they need,” said Eric Dall, the Scottsdale Christian athletic director who, before that, was the fifth grade teacher for three of Salmon’s children. “He’s just a great example of work ethic and caring about what you do. So I’m glad that our boys are getting to experience that.”
Salmon, who also contributes to Fox Sports West’s coverage of the Angels after the high school season, said the funny part is that most of his players were too young to remember his career. To earn their trust and respect, he has to do more than simply show them his baseball card.
“I still feel like I’m 25, 30,” said the 52-year-old Salmon, “but these kids look at me as some leathery old coach that played in the big leagues 100 years ago.”
Yet, it all adds to the appeal of the job, part of the reason he hasn’t pursued a position at a professional level.
“It’d be one thing to go coach in the minor leagues with adult men that can process things, and yeah that’d be fun because I could hit on deeper technical things,” he said. “But I tell the kids, ‘My biggest goal is, I want to have that light bulb moment with you. That moment where something clicks.’”
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How would Salmon describe his coaching style?
“I’m not Joe Maddon,” he said, laughing, of the Angels’ current manager who was the club’s bench coach during Salmon’s time with the team. “But only because, he’s a different personality. He’s a very laid-back personality. I’m very type A, blue collar.”
He does, however, often refer back to his days playing for Maddon and former Angels manager Mike Scioscia. One of Maddon’s creeds — “The relentless execution of fundamentals” — is even written across a white board in his dugout.
“I told [the players] yesterday, you need to take that field and you need to have that mind-set that you’re competing with somebody,” Salmon said. “There’s somebody always looking to take your job. If you’re going to cut corners or not do the fundamental things we’re asking you to do, you’re only hurting yourself.
“I told them, ‘I played almost 15 years. Vladimir Guerrero took my job. That day comes.’ But I was making the point, trying to give them perspective that in life, it’s the same thing. . . . The lessons you take from here will help make you a better teammate, a team player, help you be more focused at the job you have someday.”
It’s moments like that where Salmon derives a lot of joy for the job. It has allowed him to stay around baseball, yet see the sport’s importance in a much different way.
“I always say, ‘This scratches a great itch,’” Salmon said. “You’ve got a program you’re running. And I’m the kind of guy that, quite honestly, that fills me.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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