There is a hole under the ‘guest’ sign on the scoreboard beyond the left-field fence at Scottsdale Christian Academy, an indentation made by former Los Angeles Angels right fielder Tim Salmon last year while showing how to hit a left-handed curve off of a machine.
“I said, ‘Every once in awhile if you work on hitting it over there, you might catch it out front,’ ” Salmon, 47, said. “I hit a line drive. The kids were like, ‘Oh wow!’ I said, ‘That’s just a normal out in the big leagues.’ ”
Ten years removed from his 14th and final major-league season, Salmon still lights up around a baseball field, no matter how small it is.
Salmon played his whole career with the Angels, including a memorable World Series (.346 batting average and two home runs in a Game 2 win over the San Francisco Giants) in 2002, the same year he was named the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year.
It’s been 30 years since he was lacing tape-measure shots at Phoenix Greenway High, before he went on to stardom at Grand Canyon University.
Even though he never appeared in an All-Star Game, Salmon was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1993 and finished as the Angels’ all-time home run leader with 299. And, to show how much he is respected, nobody for the Angels has worn his number 15 since he retired at the end of the 2006 season.
Now, he is back at the high school level, in his second season leading Scottsdale Christian’s baseball team, while mixing in his Angels television duties for Fox Sports.
“The key for me was being around my kids,” Salmon said.
All four of his children, with wife, Marci, have gone through the small, private K-12 SCA. Sophomore Ryan is an outfielder on the junior varsity. Katelyn is hitting .500 on the varsity softball team. When SCA needed a coach before the start of last season, Salmon decided to take it on, knowing his son will be with his dad for all four of his high school years.
“I was not only having fun but I was seeing the light bulb go off in the kid,” Salmon said. “I wanted to pass along my experience to make them better players. Did I ever envision myself being a high school baseball coach? No. I didn’t know what I envisioned myself after I was done playing.
“Now that I’m here, this is it. These are young men’s lives I’m impacting. The biggest thing I take away is, I want to teach lessons in baseball that translates to life, how to deal with the ups and downs, the failures and successes.”
In his first year last season, Salmon led SCA on an improbable run to the state semifinals, winning 10 of 12, before falling to Phoenix Northwest Christian 2-1. The team finished 20-9 behind pitcher Robert Reaser, who went 10-2 with a 1.55 ERA and is now at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore.
Salmon coached Reaser in Little League. Most of his peers went to Scottsdale Chaparral.
Injuries and a daunting schedule in a new, tougher league (Division III) have impacted this year’s Scottsdale Christian team, which is 5-9-3 but coming off a 2-0 win over 14-6-1 Fountain Hills behind the pitching of its No. 3 starter, Adam Bernardo.
Salmon, known as the Big Fish with the Angels, knows SCA is the small fish in a big baseball pond.
Chaparral draws most of the top players in Scottsdale.
But Salmon isn’t so worried about winning games as long as his kids play the right way, not trying to show up anybody.
“Kids can’t come out and dress like Bryce Harper,” Salmon said. “I said, ‘No, you’re not going to do that. You’ve got to earn it. Bryce Harper earned that.’ I think one game I snapped at them. We’re getting pummeled by 15 runs. We get a base hit and he’s celebrating, acting like he was on the other side of it. I try to give them perspective on how to handle things. I want them to have their peers appreciate them.”
Because Salmon has been around SCA for a while now, his players aren’t in awe of him.
“They’re familiar with me,” he said. “I get more of that awe from the other dugout, if I do at all.”
When Salmon took his team to an Angels spring training game in March at Tempe Diablo Stadium, he gave them the VIP treatment, taking them into the clubhouse and on the field. They were surprised to see fans wanting their coach’s autograph.
“They said, ‘Coach, you’re so popular,’ ” Salmon said.
Most of the players respect his credentials and take his instruction on how to hit. One time, he said, a player challenged his instruction by informing him how his club coach told him to do it.
“I said, ‘Let me see the back of your club coach’s baseball card,’ ” Salmon said. “I don’t want to pull it out, but it surprises me when I get that hesitation. If I had a coach who played in the big leagues, I’d be right on top of that.”
Salmon enjoys watching kids blossom.
It’s been a hard journey back this season for junior pitcher Kameron Quitno, who pitched his first game last week coming off a sore arm.
He dominated for five innings, before Salmon pulled him because he was on a pitch count. SCA ended up losing the game in the seventh inning on a walk-off.
SCA’s record might be reversed with a healthy Quitno all season.
“I didn’t know what to expect when he came in to coach us,” Quitno said. “He’s a big guy. He can be intimidating at times. But he’s a cool guy. He was such a good player. You can pick his brain, get details, the little things. He’s really easy to talk to.”
Salmon is happy at SCA. But he sometimes thinks about coaching in the big leagues, perhaps as a hitting instructor, down the road — perhaps with the Angels.
After the high school season ends, Salmon will spend most of the summer with the Angels, doing TV commentary.
That’s still his family.
For now, Scottsdale Christian is his home.
“I try to start off the day with having some fun,” Salmon said before a practice. “We’ll incorporate the younger kids, freshmen to seniors. We’re doing this together. We need the younger kids as much as they need us. I just hope to get them to feel relaxed. We keep it loose. But they know, you’ll never have a problem unless your head’s not in the game and if you don’t hustle.”