The loyal Pioneer: Tim Wallace’s dedication to Spartanburg pays off with Hall call
Tim Wallace skipped his college graduation.
He had a baseball game to coach.
“I graduated college and lost in the district playoffs on the same day,” the Spartanburg Methodist College (South Carolina) coach said. “I skipped graduation because we were playing, and we lost. I should have gone to the dag-blame graduation.”
That was 1992, his first year as the Pioneers’ head coach.
Wallace, now in his 23rd season as Spartanburg Methodist’s coach — the only coaching job he’s had — is one of four inductees in the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame this season.
“All I ever wanted to do was play baseball and coach,” he said. “The whole pro ball, that would have been great if that had worked out and I got to the big leagues and made millions, but you leave after your junior year and you go play for six, seven years and all of a sudden you can’t get into coaching because you don’t have a degree.”
Wallace, a catcher, was drafted out of Wofford College (South Carolina) after his junior season by the St. Louis Cardinals. He signed and had a seven-year career, including two years in Italy. He was an all-star in the Appalachian and Florida State leagues and was the St. Petersburg (Florida) Cardinals’ MVP in 1983.
At Wofford, he hit .456, a school career record, and had a hitting streak of 37 games, also a school record. He went into Wofford’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
His loyalty now is with Spartanburg Methodist, and for good reason.
“I did the selling sporting goods for a couple of years and got very fortunate to get the position here,” he said. “I just shared with (a civic group in Spartanburg), I’m as loyal to this institution as anybody you’ll ever find, because they took a chance on me when I didn’t have a degree and gave me an opportunity to coach and work on my degree that first spring. I’ve thrown my name out (for other jobs) a couple of places but never had a real desire to leave. I’ve seen so many coaches leave here and head to the NCAA ranks and they all come back and say they wish they had never left.
“SMC was a good place for me. I got to see my (three) kids raised, I knew who they were hanging around with, we were in the same church, so it’s good. You get to interact with the scouts, with the Division I coaches. but there hasn’t been the desire to leave and there’s none now, unless the college kicks me out of here.”
That’s not likely.
Spartanburg Methodist’s president, Dr. Colleen Perry Keith, said Wallace is a man of integrity, and it showed this season.
“I think it’s his focus and his commitment to having integrity in what he does,” Keith said when asked about her baseball coach and athletic director. “I think that makes a difference. He’s focused on what does it mean to be successful. That might not mean winning, winning helps. It might not always mean winning in every situation. He really maintains a strong focus on what it means to be successful and what it means to do things in an excellent way and do it with integrity.”
Some of the Pioneers’ players broke a team rule this season, and Wallace, true to his nature, enforced the punishment, even though it meant sitting several players on the bench for a month of the season.
“They all sign an agreement, there’s a covenant relationship that they sign at the start of every year, where they’re going to abide by behavioral expectations,” Keith said. “He had a bunch that didn’t and they sat the bench for a month. He was fielding a team at one point this season that had 11 position players and six pitchers for 30 days. That’s a long time, but the rules are the rules and he wasn’t going to bend on that.
“The guys had to practice and work out with the team, and they’d put on their uniform and sat the bench. That’s (Wallace) in a nutshell ... and yet he could still win at that point. That shows the integrity and the commitment to excellence and what it takes to be successful.”
Junior college coaching, especially at small schools, isn’t an easy task. Budgets are tight, but Wallace, who surpassed 1,000 victories this season, has always figured out how to get it done.
“I said to our president when she came on, we’re our own worst enemies here because we keep doing more and more with less and less,” Wallace said.
“I think it’s like a test, how low can we go with the budget and still win?”
And this from the athletic director.
“I guess I happen to have the right mentality for here,” Wallace said. “We’ll get it done somehow. I don’t worry about a whole lot. I don’t fret, yell, scream, cuss. If you want it to be done, go do it, and if you want it done right, do it yourself.”
Under Wallace, the Pioneers have won 11 Region 10 championships and made it to the JUCO World Series seven times.
Wallace, 53, has a gruff exterior, but get to know him and you see past that.
“I think he likes people to know that he has that,” Keith said, “but I don’t think deep down he’s all that gruff.”
His players didn’t talk about the push to qualify for JUCO the year their coach is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“They wouldn’t dare say that to me out loud,” he said. “They don’t talk to me. They’re scared to death of me. I’m serious.
“I don’t run a democracy, we’re not going to discuss things and call council on them before we do them. I’m the old guy and if something goes wrong I get to deal with it, but I’m not a bad guy. I’m a nice guy.”
Wallace, who doesn’t reflect on past seasons, doesn’t have many regrets. He wishes those hundreds of former players who have sent congratulatory wishes could be in Grand Junction this weekend, and he promises his induction speech won’t have people fidgeting in their seats.
“Nobody’s going to complain about me talking too long,” he said. “That doesn’t diminish the honor. I’m as thrilled and honored as can be. We’ll do a little public talk and have a private celebration.”
His career winning percentage of .761 (1,030-323) is one of the best among active junior college coaches, yet he was surprised when he got the phone call informing him of his election to the Hall of Fame. Rather, when he heard the message.
“I screen calls like anybody else,” he said. “I’m wondering what the heck this is, who’s calling me from New York? Then I heard the message and it was Dave Chamberlain (from the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame) and I said, ‘Whoaaa. This might be the Hall of Fame.’ ‘’
“I don’t want to say I haven’t thought about the Hall of Fame because you can’t help but think about it when you’re sitting there at the banquet and you see people going in,” he said. “You think, ‘Wow, that’s got to be pretty neat.’ ‘’