THE HEART TO GO ON
Lloyd Simmons back coaching at Seminole State after 12 years away
His heart led Lloyd Simmons back to Seminole (Okla.) State College, in more ways than one.
The Trojans’ longtime coach, who retired from Seminole in 2001 after 26 years, is back in the dugout as the head coach. He never left baseball, doing some scouting and then became the manager of the Kansas City Royals’ rookie team for seven years, the final six in the Arizona League.
Heart surgery in 2007, though, forced him to give up managing.
“Not when you have open heart surgery and two months later, three bypasses don’t work,” he said of that change. “A friend of mine got me into Stanford (Medical Center) and a young lady, a doctor, saved my life. Knock on wood, I’ve been good ever since.”
He wasn’t able to go to spring training after surgery, so the Royals moved him into the scouting department. He then became a scout for the New York Yankees.
That wasn’t a life conducive to his health, either, driving several hours, then sitting and watching a ballgame.
“It’s not good for your legs, your circulation and that stuff,” he said. “It got me out of the house and from feeling sorry for myself, and I enjoyed it, I got to go to the ballpark. But you sit in the car for three or four hours and at the ballgame for two or three hours and then back at the motel writing reports for two or three hours.
“There’s not a whole lot of movement. You eat poorly. I enjoyed the opportunity, and all scouts, they always want to have a No. 1 draft pick, and I got that with Ty Hensley (the 30th overall pick of the 2012 draft and the Yankees’ No. 6 minor league prospect) out of Edmond. I enjoyed it, but I enjoy this more.”
“This” is pulling on his jersey with the number 0 on the back, the number that was retired when he left Seminole, but un-retired when he returned.
“This job came open last year at this time and they offered it to me and I turned it down,” he said. “They offered it to me again and I turned it down again. Then my wife told me to call my heart doctor and ask him.
“He told me I’d be better off being back on the field and getting some exercise and moving around rather than sitting around.”
So at the age of 69, Simmons left scouting and started coaching again.
“I enjoyed Rookie ball, my second year for the Royals we won the Rookie championship for the first time in many years,” he said of his team that featured current Dodgers pitcher Zack Grienke. “They were good times and I learned a lot of baseball. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn’t know anything.”
Simmons thought he had a team good enough to get back to Grand Junction for what would have been his 14th trip to the JUCO World Series, but injuries down the stretch hampered their run.
“We’re trying to teach them the proper way to play,” he said. “Our right fielder was out the first five weeks and in his first game of the tournament he did well and then got hurt in the second or third game and didn’t play the last game. Our third baseman broke his hand. It was a circus act.
“You put young kids out there and hope they do the job. Maybe next year.”
Simmons has noticed changes in junior college baseball in the years he was away, mainly because of the change in the “draft-and-follow” rule in Major League Baseball.
Players no longer stay under the control of a pro team that drafts them for a year, giving them the option of playing a year of college — in may cases, junior college — baseball before signing a contract.
The clubs could monitor a player’s progress in college. Now, drafted players have roughly one week to decide whether to sign a pro contract or go to school. If they don’t sign, the club loses control and they go back into the draft when they’re eligible.
“I think it lessens the quality in junior college,” Simmons said. “The draft and follow brought a lot of top-quality kids to jucos all across the country.”
There was a downside to the draft and follow, though, because players under club control had to sign at least 48 hours before the next year’s draft, which came before the college season ended.
Simmons said some of those players who signed found it hard to focus on their junior college team once they knew they were going pro.
“Kade Johnson in ‘99, after he signed, he didn’t do anything for us (as the Trojans’ catcher during the JUCO World Series),” Simmons said. “He was mentally done. No matter how hard they try, it’s human nature.”
Simmons said his first year back at Seminole has him back in his comfort zone, and that 0 jersey will stay un-retired.
“As long as the good Lord lets me,” he said of his second go-round at Seminole. “I told somebody else who asked me that, there’s nothing wrong with dying at third base.”