By IAN WILSON
In order to claim a World Series championship, you have to make the right hires.
For the Texas Rangers – who coaxed manager Bruce Bochy out of retirement with impressive results – that included luring Tim Hyers to the Major League Baseball (MLB) organization.
Hyers joined the Rangers in 2022 after four seasons as the hitting coach of the Boston Red Sox, reuniting with then-manager Chris Woodward. A disappointing campaign resulted in Woodward’s firing but Hyers remained with the team.
Woodward and Hyers, both alumni of the Medicine Hat Blue Jays from the 1990s, were key in attracting free-agent shortstop Corey Seager to the Rangers. The coaches worked closely with Seager when all three were members of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seager cited that bond as a major incentive in his inking a 10-year, $325-million deal with the Rangers.
After clubbing three homers in five games, Seager was named the 2023 World Series MVP and became the first player to win such honours for an American League team and a National League squad.
In defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Fall Classic, the Rangers showed they pulled all the right levers in pursuit of the title.
Hyers was one of many clutch moves by general manager Chris Young that produced dividends.
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Hyers also won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2018. Not bad for a first baseman who only suited up in 133 MLB games and had just 230 at bats in the bigs during a decade-long pro playing career.
That portion of his baseball career started and ended in Alberta.
GAS CITY GANG
Hyers was a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1990, compensation the Canadian team received when outfielder Lloyd Moseby signed with the Detroit Tigers.
The 18-year-old was sent to Medicine Hat for his first taste of professional baseball in the Pioneer League. Through 61 games, the lefty hitter posted a .219 batting average while recording 11 extra-base hits. He also scored 29 runs and contributed 19 runs batted in (RBI).
Medicine Hat’s roster had a handful of future major leaguers on it, but it was also a young team. If it’s true that you need to learn how to lose before you can learn how to win, Hyers was enrolled in a master class on defeat in the summer of 1990.
The Baby Jays stumbled out of the gate, losing their first 10 games.
“I don’t think I’ve ever lost this many in a row in my life,” Hyers confided in Medicine Hat News reporter Susan Quinn.
“We don’t know what the problem is.”
Field manager Garth Iorg was blunt in his assessment of the team’s shortcomings.
“I think our pitching is what’s killing us, and our inability to catch ground balls,” said Iorg.
“Our pitching hasn’t supported us at all. Plus, we haven’t helped our pitchers with the defence we’ve been showing behind them.”
The average attendance at Athletic Park was just over 400 fans per game that summer, ranking last in the league.
“If we don’t produce a winner here … it’s hard to expect a lot of fans coming out,” noted Hyers.
Added Iorg: “It would be nice to have more fans out here for the support they can give. But we have to earn it. We have to earn the fans’ respect and we haven’t done that.”
Rookie-level baseball also meant a steady stream of personnel changes, and that included more than just the players on the field.
Iorg, an infielder who played 931 games for the Toronto Blue Jays, was a first-time manager who owned a steel company in California before making his way to southern Alberta.
Prior to 1990, Medicine Hat had never employed a full-time pitching coach. The arrival of former Kansas City Royals reliever Marty Pattin changed that.
Meanwhile, general manager Kevin Friesen stepped down in late-June to focus on his role as sports director with CHAT television.
There were bright spots on the Medicine Hat roster, however. Third baseman Howard Battle, middle infielder Mike Coolbaugh, outfielder Brent Bowers and Canadian starting pitcher Paul Spoljaric all made their way to the big leagues. Battle and Bowers were both selected as top 10 prospects in the Pioneer League by Baseball America.
Hyers, who would also find his way to the majors, was another positive and his coaches took notice.
Iorg praised his first baseman’s batting and defensive awareness in the July 2nd edition of the Medicine Hat News.
“Hyers only got one hit, but I’ll bet he hit four balls hard,” said Iorg before reflecting on a heads-up play in the field.
“What he had is a guy off second base. The worst thing he could have done is thrown the ball away … he ran the play to perfection. He watched the play develop.”
The losses, however, continued to mount.
The Baby Jays couldn’t compete with the Great Falls Dodgers, who won the league title that year and had a roster that boasted future MLB stars Raul Mondesi and Pedro Martinez.
Ultimately, the campaign finished in much the same way that it started. Medicine Hat lost their final 15 games and their 20-46 record placed them last in the North Division.
It actually could’ve been worse. The 1988 Medicine Hat Blue Jays picked up just a dozen wins in 70 games under Rocket Wheeler.
“Basically, we were just over-matched,” said Iorg of the dismal campaign.
“I think you can’t be too quick to judge people. You can’t be too quick to judge their talents. You’ve kind of got to let them go. As nice as it is to win, you’ve got to realized that the long-term goal here is to get guys to the major leagues. Hopefully, you can mix in winning with that.”
Those words proved true for Hyers, who could only move up from Medicine Hat – and he did.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
He made his way to the Double-A Knoxville Smokies, where he was noticed by the San Diego Padres, who selected him in the MLB Rule 5 Draft in December of 1993.
His MLB debut was not far behind. Hyers split the 1994 season with the Triple-A Las Vegas Stars and the Padres, playing 52 games for San Diego.
He struggled to find regular at-bats in the big leagues, but Hyers continued to perform well. Adding outfield positional play to his repertoire, he became a familiar face on International League and Pacific Coast League affiliates and he was never demoted below Triple-A during the remainder of his days as a player.
There were nagging doubts. Retirement was considered, but Hyers persevered.
After the Arizona Diamondbacks granted his request for a release in 1998, the Florida Marlins picked him up.
Real-life issues were also affecting Hyers. More specifically, cancer was taking its toll on the people he loved. The disease claimed the life of his grandfather – Robert Barnes – on May 22, 1998, the same day he signed a Triple-A deal with the Marlins. His grandmother, Alberta Barnes, died from cancer on his last day of that season.
Ashley, his daughter, was born with cancer on Sept. 30, 1997. She underwent major surgeries to remove a mass from her neck the following year.
The impact of the disease gave Hyers important perspective on his day-to-day job.
“Last year, it was a real dark time but I kept going knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” Hyers told Calgary Herald reporter Gyle Konotopetz in an interview that appeared in the May 2, 1999 edition of the newspaper.
“With all that happened last year, it made me a stronger person. I have so much to be thankful for. I learned that baseball is a game and I learned to live life one day at a time. Pressure is handing your baby daughter over to a doctor not knowing if you’ll ever see her again.”
Hyers drew inspiration from Ashley’s fight and the strength of his family.
“When you see the courage of people fighting cancer, you realize how lucky you are playing a game,” he said.
“If I didn’t get picked up last year, that was it … I felt like I was wasting my time sitting on the bench when I could be spending time with my daughter.”
Added Hyers: “The biggest difference in me now is that I’ll never give up – as long as you’re wearing a uniform, you can go to the majors. There’s always a chance.”
Indeed, his chances were quite strong in 1999, when Hyers split his playing time fairly evenly between the Marlins and their top farm team, the Calgary Cannons.
Unlike his squad in Medicine Hat, Hyers was surrounded by talented players in Calgary that included shortstop Benji Gil, first baseman Derrek Lee, outfielder Jerome Walton and starting pitcher Ryan Dempster.
Two of those teammates – outfielder Kevin Millar and third baseman Mike Lowell – went on to be clutch World Series performers with the Boston Red Sox.
Millar’s “Cowboy Up” personality was already on display with the Cannons. He correctly predicted a long-ball game for himself during a 5-1 win over the Nashville Sounds when he said, “Goin’ deep tonight,” pregame and then clubbed two homers during the victory.
Lowell, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in February of 1999, causing him to miss two months of the season, was the 2007 World Series MVP for the Red Sox.
In his 51 games with the Cannons, Hyers batted .268 and produced 20 RBI for the team. With the Marlins, his batting average dipped to .222 and he collected a dozen RBI in 58 MLB contests.
And that was it for his playing days, but he never did give up on spending time in Major League Baseball.
Hyers became a hitting coach with the West Michigan Whitecaps, a Single-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers in 2002.
He did some scouting for the Red Sox after that and then Boston put him to work as their minor-league hitting coordinator in 2013, where he worked with future superstar Mookie Betts.
In 2016 and 2017, Hyers joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as the assistant hitting coach. He and Seager developed a strong working relationship there that would pay off in a big way for the Texas Rangers in 2023.
As the baseball world discovered, the former Calgary Cannon was a tremendous hire.