Ozzie Timmons: Talk to Me
Officially, Ozzie Timmons is the Durham Bulls’ hitting coach. The 6’2 former big leaguer spends his days helping Triple-A hitters hone their craft, fine tune their swings, and make the minute adjustments that hopefully give them the edge they need to take that final step to the Major Leagues.
Unofficially, Timmons serves as a sort of “energy coach.” The 46-year-old with the shaved head and grin that spreads ear to ear is a constant voice inside the Bulls’ clubhouse. Always smiling, always joking, always looking for someone to talk to, Oz is a presence that’s hard to miss.
“I like to have a good time,” said Timmons. “I joke around quite a bit just to try to keep guys loose. Some guys don’t know how to take it at first but once they get to know me it’s a lot easier. You’ve got to keep this thing loose. The season is too long to be worrying about every at-bat, every pitch, every out, because you really will stress yourself out.”
Timmons is a firm believer in the power of conversation, the strength of open dialog, the energy of lively banter, the truly transformational capability of simply talking with someone. He uses his natural ability to converse with virtually anyone to help keep himself and the team in a positive frame of mind.
“When you speak to someone, you might change their day,” said Timmons. “They might be at the lowest point in their life, and you start talking to them or say ‘hey, how’re you doing?’ and that might wake them up and bring them out of whatever they’re in. Speaking is not a hard thing. I know social media and everything keeps people so closed off. Just to say hello to somebody ain’t hard. Then when you have to be with these people, just to come in and say ‘what’s up?’ I really wish more people could do that, but everybody can’t do that and that’s just the way I am.”
The story of who Timmons is begins where he hopes to end up again one day, Tampa Bay, Florida. Growing up as an athletic kid Oz played just about every sport he could with his tight-knit group of friends, but it was early games of “stick ball” that hooked him on baseball.
“It was just a thing in the neighborhood,” said Timmons. “We were in the backyard playing stickball is what we called it. You get any kind of ball you can find, a broom handle or any kind of stick you can find, and you play strikeout. I mean, all you needed was two guys; three would be best because you’d have a catcher, a hitter, and a pitcher. That’s how it started with me. All the guys in the neighborhood, we all played.
Timmons excelled at the sport quickly, moving through high school where the naturally strong hitter chose to pursue baseball at least partly because “I didn’t like to lift weights and I could hit a home run without lifting weights.” He then went on to play college ball at his hometown University of Tampa. Timmons’ career eventually led to the pros when he was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 5th round of the 1991 Draft. From there Oz played four years in the Minor Leagues before making his big league debut in 1995. He then spent parts of five seasons in the show, including a short but impressive stint with his hometown Rays in 2000.
That year proved to be a turning point in Timmons’ career. It just wasn’t the one he was expecting.
“I went down to Venezuela (after the season) to play everyday (in winter ball), because I DH’d most of the time,” said Timmons. “But with Greg Vaughn and Jose Conseco and Fred McGriff (in Tampa), the DH spot was pretty much taken. So I went down to Venezuela to start playing every day again in the outfield, and while I was down there I read in a paper that was two days old that I got released.”
It was a twist that could’ve broke Timmons, but instead it helped lead him to what has became a sort of life motto for the seemingly always-positive instructor.
Everything happens for a reason.
Timmons made lemonade out of lemons as the saying goes and moved across the Pacific to play in Japan for a year, then kept his career going with a stint with independent Atlantic City. When it was finally time for him to put down his glove for good, Timmons had no doubts about what was next.
“When I stopped playing my last year in Atlantic City, I knew I wanted to coach,” said Timmons. “I knew I wanted to get baseball out of me.”
Now in his 11th year coaching and his second season with the Bulls Timmons combines his baseball knowledge with his boundless energy to help others achieve the dream he once did, using his affinity for conversation to fine-tune the art of hitting.
“You pick up things every time you step out on the field,” said Timmons. “I pick up things every time I come here. You never stop learning. You can always learn something from someone. Like I tell these hitters, ‘I don’t know everything.’ So that’s why I ask them, ‘talk to me. Let me know what you want to do, what you’re feeling. Is there some drills that you’ve done in the past that I might not have even thought about. Tell me what you like to do.’[…]Let’s talk, let’s work with what you’ve got. That’s the biggest learning point I had. Don’t try to make people like you. Just listen to them. I listen well…I think I listen well. I tell guys, ‘just talk to me man.’”
Timmons doesn’t appear to be running out of words or energy anytime soon either. His love of the game and of baseball’s inherent camaraderie is as strong as ever.
“Until they take the uniform off, I’m gonna keep going,” said Timmons. “What I learned coming up as a player, I try to give back to these players. It’s a lot different now with all the analytics and everything else, but I still try to play the game hard, play the game the right way, be a good teammate, and have fun. That’s the way I was taught, and that’s why I went into coaching was to give all that back to the younger generation coming up now.”
So Timmons does give, and gives and gives and gives, drawing from a seemingly endless supply of words and energy. In a game that is predicated on failure, Oz has developed a simple way of gauging his success.
“(I know I’m doing a good job) by the looks on the players’ faces when they come to the park,” said Timmons. “If they have a smile on their face, they’re having a good time. If they have a smile on their face that means they’re doing well.”
There’s been plenty of smiling faces for the Bulls this season. The team is winning, the players are performing, and the clubhouse is gelling. Oz’s influence can be felt throughout the ballpark, his life motto becoming a team motto.
“Just have fun in life. Have fun in life no matter what you’re doing.”