SUMTER — TIM MEDLIN had been away from the game he loves for nearly five years when he received a phone call last June from Stuart Lake, who played for Medlin at Newberry College and now is the Charleston Southern baseball coach.
“One-nine, this job is open,” Lake said, referring to the No. 19 jersey Medlin has worn throughout his nearly 25 years as a head baseball coach. Lake also was referring to the USC Sumter job vacated by its first and only coach, Tom Fleenor.
“They’re looking,” Medlin recalled Lake saying. “What do you think?”
Medlin initially thought he was awfully comfortable as a national sales representative for BSN Sports out of Dallas.
“I was done and said I’d never do it again,” Medlin said of coaching.
The following day, Monte Lee, the College of Charleston coach, called Medlin. Lee was more emphatic than Lake.
“You need to do this,” Medlin recalls Lee saying.
Medlin, long considered one of the Midlands’ leading teachers of the game, is back in coaching. He is back in a big way. In his first season, Medlin has guided USC Sumter to the Region X championship and a berth in this weekend’s junior college Eastern District Tournament at Sumter’s Riley Park with a trip to the national junior college World Series on the line.
“I figured out after 30 years,” Medlin said, “this is where I want to be.”
Medlin said the most enjoyable years of his coaching career, which also included stops at Newberry College and with the Columbia Blowfish, occurred during his four seasons at Anderson Junior College in the 1980s.
“JUCO fits my mindset, my personality,” he said. “You get different kinds of kids. You don’t get the polished guys. You’ve got to teach. You’ve got to work with them.”
From the first day he met with his new team, Medlin began imparting on them a sense of responsibility and discipline. Sophomore pitcher Fernando Pinillos said promptness was an immediate priority, and volunteer weight-lifting sessions the previous year were now mandatory at 6 a.m. Sophomore pitcher David Sauer, a Dutch Fork product, said off-field problems were no longer tolerated.
“Don’t go out and howl at the moon,” Sauer recalled the message being from Medlin, or you will be howling from anguish in the coach’s office.
Class attendance was mandatory and monitored. The team volunteered at Christmas outside Sumter department stores, ringing bells for the Salvation Army. Players visited a Sumter children’s home.
Meanwhile, Medlin went about building a foundation to the program through fund-raising and facilities management. A 100-inning scrimmage raised $10,000. A golf tournament helped supplement the budget. Medlin aims to raise an additional $15,000-$20,000 by June 30.
When Medlin arrived on the job, the on-campus practice field was mostly a vacant lot with thigh-high weeds and grass. The Fort Jackson Golf Club sold him a $29,000 fairway mower for $3,000. He found an unused tractor on campus and volunteer assistant Josh Eachues repaired it. Glasscock Company donated 22 tons of dirt for the field and bullpen pitchers’ mounds.
Medlin, Eachues and volunteer assistant Wesley Potter do it all, from tending the field to washing uniforms to driving the team bus.
Because the recruiting budget is limited, Medlin relies heavily on his deep connections in the high school and college baseball communities throughout the state. USC coach Chad Holbrook sent him catcher Ray Murphy and outfielder Anthony Paulson.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to take guys who are not as polished, not Division I-, Division II-ready and get them to that point,” said Medlin, who will send 16 players to four-year programs next fall. “There is talent in this state. It may be academics they need more help. It may be athletics. It may be both.
“Getting to teach, getting to develop guys. Getting them to understand what’s important, that’s the fun part.”
That, and winning.
Moments after USC Sumter won its first region tournament last week, during the on-field celebration, the pitcher Sauer sought out Medlin to tell him that all the early morning jogs and daybreak weight-lifting sessions were more than worthwhile.
For Medlin, it was verification that it was good to be back.