Boyhood Dreams, A Never-Ending Passion For The Game
March 30, 2021
In 2017, four years removed from their last playoff appearance, Rays’ manager Kevin Cash selected an ebullient former outfielder to fill the void left by the loss of first base coach Rocco Baldelli. Osborne “Ozzie” Timmons was called up from his coaching position with the Durham Bulls to serve, not only as a spirited coach, but as a friend and role model to the young team Cash had assembled.
“I’m a coach-player,” said Timmons in an interview before his debut as a Major League coach. “I feel like I’m still one of the guys, but I know when to separate it. I can go play cards with you, but I can yell at you three hours from now when you do something stupid in the game. I can separate the two.”
Before rejoining his former team as a coach, the 6’2 right fielder played five years in the Majors, from 1995-2000, but, like many big leaguers, his days in baseball began in the little leagues, where he played with Durant High School’s principal, Gary Graham.
“[Playing with Timmons] was two things. Number one, it was a lot of fun because he was always a fun person to be around, both on the field and especially off the field. He is the same as he is now even when he was a teenager and even younger. People gravitated towards him. But, the second thing that was the reason he was fun to play with on the field, was that we won a lot, whether it was little league, high school, or college.”
Both Graham and Timmons went to Brandon High School and the University of Tampa, playing on their schools’ respective baseball teams until their graduation from the University of Tampa in 1991. While Graham pursued a career in education, Timmons signed his first baseball contract after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 1991 draft.
The personable coach served four years in the Minors, refining his hitting and defense in right field until his Major League debut in April of 1995, when he was walked by Cincinnati Reds pitcher Chuck McElroy with the bases loaded, earning him his first RBI as a major league batter.
Timmons would play four seasons in the Majors before finding his way back to his hometown in 2000 when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. Timmons played in the outfield and pinch hit until his last game on October 1, 2000 with his final at bat coming in the tenth inning, resulting in a single that led to the Rays’ 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
After a few years in the winter leagues, Timmons began his coaching career in Durham before finally getting the call from Tropicana Field.
“I’m excited for Ozzie to join our staff. He has a track record of connecting with hitters and providing high-quality coaching throughout his career.” ”
— Kevin Cash
Graham recalled Timmons’ optimism as early as little league, which has translated to his Major League coaching. Timmons says he keeps the Rays’ players positive throughout the game by “pump[ing] them up to keep them going” with his push up routine for example.
It started on May 28, 2018, when the Rays were playing the Oakland Athletics and couldn’t knock in a run. Timmons jokingly said he would do pushups for each run the Rays scored. It wasn’t until the 13th inning of that game though that the Rays would score the first and only run of the game and Timmons would do his first set of ten pushups.
Timmons said his greatest accomplishment as a coach has been watching the players he coached in the Rays’ farm system, such as Blake Snell and Kevin Kiermaier, move up the ranks from the Minors to the big leagues.
“As a coach, [my goal is] just keeping the guys prepared. You try to learn all the new stuff that’s coming out, so you are always trying to study the other teams so that’s the main thing… My main goal [is] to, every year, get more knowledge, so I can have the guys prepared for when they step on the field.”
During the offseason, he devotes his time to studying game strategies in order to relay the information to his players, but also uses the offseason to do yard work and ride his bike.
Timmons is known to spend time in Tampa Bay schools, acting as a coach and mentor. Durant was fortunate enough to be part of his offseason stops last year. Durant students had the opportunity to meet Timmons, who offered advice for students, athletes, and major league hopefuls.
The 50 year old amiable coach emphasizes the importance of staying healthy and in shape during the off season, something he reminds his players and young athletes of, saying, “Take care of your body, and your body will take care of you.”
His genuine and lighthearted personality isn’t just reserved for the players on the field. Before games, he walks down the line of fans signing autographs and occasionally playing catch with young fans, proving his approachable and good nature.
Timmons’ career as a ballplayer and coach is what brought him to his position with the Rays today, but his personality and dedication to the fans is what makes him one of the best and most memorable coaches the Rays have.
Timmons will return to the diamond on February 27 as first base coach and assistant hitting coach when the Rays begin their Spring Training at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte to defend their American League Champion title.