Timmons is the real-life Crash Davis (cont.)
Taped above Timmons' locker at Phoenix Municipal Stadium is a baseball card of Chipper Jones. A mischievous teammate placed it there, a regular reminder of Timmons' stunted progress.
The Braves drafted Timmons in the 12th round in 2002, and Timmons advanced at a typical pace through the minors, reaching Triple A for the first time three years later, only to be blocked from the major leagues in a way few recent players -- a Yankees shortstop prospect, for instance -- could appreciate.
"These guys clown me over here a lot," Timmons said of his A's teammates, "because I happened to play third base over there [with the Braves], and we all know who's their soon-to-be Hall of Fame third baseman."
Timmons said he never had a formal invite to Braves major league camp and only played sparingly in spring games as a backup. He figures he got nine at bats in three years, meaning he often had some time to kill on the dugout bench.
Outgoing and gregarious, Timmons figured he might as well pass the time in conversation and ultimately learned a lot from Jones' predecessor at the position, Terry Pendleton, who for most of the past decade served as Atlanta's hitting coach.
"A lot of that time I would hang out on the bench and talk to players and coaches," Timmons said, "number one, to pass the time because you've got to figure out how to spend three and a half hours and, number two, if I might be able to bring something with me."
Timmons credits those conversations with Pendleton as an important lesson in honing his disciplined approach at the plate, even with two strikes. He's never been a power hitter, but in only one minor league season did he have an on-base percentage below .375. For his career he has walked 468 times and struck out only 287.
After making consecutive Triple A All-Star teams in 2009 and 2010 but finding his path still blocked in Atlanta, Timmons signed as a free-agent after the 2010 season with Oakland. There he not only had the best season of his career -- with personal bests for batting average, home runs, RBIs -- but made his mark in other ways, too.
"He ran the best kangaroo court I have ever seen," said A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who was making a scheduled rehab start in Sacramento when he witnessed Timmons presiding over a riotous clubhouse scene. "He was really good and really funny. Usually they all collapse in the middle and the rules are weird, but he was on top of everything."
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Part of Timmons' deal with his wife was always this: When the door to the big leagues closed, he'd walk away.
Last July Timmons thought his dream was over. The A's, facing what they called a "numbers issue" on the Triple A roster, demoted Timmons to Double A, a move that made him six years older than all but one of his position-player teammates.
Timmons called his wife and said, "I'll come home."
After some discussion, however, they decided that he should honor his one-year contract, and so Timmons packed for Midland, Texas, barely a fifth the size of Sacramento, and joined the Double A Rockhounds, an experience he initially described as "very humbling."
But a funny thing happened on his demotion to obscurity: He crushed the ball. Timmons hit .365 and at one point had a 15-game hitting streak. He made new friends and the front office received glowing reports.
"We had to send him to Double A, which we didn't want to do, but he took it great," Forst said. "He's a professional. I heard constantly from the Double A manager -- 'Hey, this guy's a veteran and he's great in the clubhouse. He's great with the younger kids.' We made sure to get him back to Triple A as soon as possible."
After 39 games Timmons returned to Sacramento, but that's as far as he got in 2011.
Lacking space on the 40-man roster, the A's were unable to promote him for a September call-up to the big leagues.
"I had no expectations," Timmons said. "I've never been in the big leagues. A lot of guys have been there and when they don't get called up in September, it's a real disappointing time. It makes the Triple A clubhouse kind of tough."
After the Triple A playoffs ended, Timmons began his long cross-country drive. He had reached West Texas when his phone rang. Forst prioritized Timmons as his first call of the offseason and extended the invitation for a return.
"I've never had anyone call and just say they appreciated what I've done in a season," Timmons said. "That phone call by itself pretty much got me hook, line and sinker back to the A's."
* * *
Another phone call on Monday morning was even better. Upon leaving Melvin's office, Timmons called his wife, who was at the zoo with their daughters, and told her to start packing for Japan.
"I'm not sure she believed me," Timmons said. "But she was super excited."
At the end of the call Randi asked, "What am I supposed to do?"
Timmons responded, "I have no idea. I'll have to call you later. What do we do?"
It's a whole new world for the minor league journeyman. Eight months ago Timmons called his wife and offered to fly east and home, his baseball dreams over; this time he called to offer her a flight west, his baseball dreams having taken a step closer to coming true.
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