If you’re looking for Tim Southall during the summer, chances are you’ll find him on one baseball diamond or another around the Newburyport area.
Over the past 37 years, Southall has coached at nearly every level of amateur baseball and has probably filled out more than 2,000 lineup cards. By the time he’s finished, he could very well have a local field named after him, but for now he has no plans of slowing down.
This summer, the Rowley native and Georgetown resident is managing the Newburyport Post 150 American Legion team and the Rowley Nor’Easters in the North Shore Baseball League, along with the two teams his son plays for, plus a six-week gig in the upcoming Bay State League.
“This year, I’m going to coach about 125 games,” Southall, 50, said. “I’m also coaching at Triton High School now. This past fall they offered me the Triton varsity middle school job and then in the spring one of the JV positions opened up and they offered me that, so I took it.”
That’s the kind of yearly schedule Southall, who graduated from Triton Regional High School in 1987, has built in a career that began back at age 13. He inherited his passion for baseball and began his coaching experience at the end of his Little League playing days.
One only needs to look towards the bench at any game he’s coaching to see how Southall’s avocation still brings out the family. His 10-year-old son is a bundle of energetic wit in the dugout while enthusiastically vocal parents Tim and Barbara still sit in lawn chairs behind the backstop. And while the person who makes his workload possible isn’t at all the games, she’s the reason Southall is still in the game.
“The biggest key to coaching 125 games is you have to have married the right girl,” Southall said of his wife Laurie, who also is mother to their twin teenage daughters. “That’s what it comes down to. We were high school sweethearts. She was 16 and I was 18, so I was coaching when she met me.”
Southall coached Little League for 18 years, and after taking over the Triton Babe Ruth team in 1997, he was instrumental in forming the Intertown Babe Ruth League, which has grown to 24 teams spread over three divisions.
At the turn of the century, Mike Quinn, who founded the Post 150 American Legion teams in Newburyport, was looking for a manager to take over the three-year old program. Quinn, also a Babe Ruth coach, tagged his biggest rival.
“I started coaching against Mike Quinn, who was coaching one of the Newburyport teams,” said Southall, whose teams had won five consecutive Babe Ruth titles and produced back-to-back undefeated seasons. “In 2001, he asked me if I’d be interested in taking over one of the Post 150 Legion teams. We had gone through a crazy few-year stretch where my Triton team was 95-4 over like three or four seasons, and Mike was kind of like the if-you-can’t-beat-him kind of thing.”
Southall has helped Newburyport become a dominant force in the Legion’s 10-team District 8. Post 150 has reached the district playoffs in 11 of the past 12 seasons, advanced to the state tournament five times in one six-year stretch and played in two state title games while winning the 2009 championship.
“He’s all about baseball and has always been all about baseball,” said longtime Haverhill coach John Trask. “He’s an extremely organized guy. He’s very energetic and he’s always been genuine. That’s probably the thing I admire the most about him. I can’t say enough good things about the guy. And on top of that, his teams are successful, so it doesn’t end at the end of the (regular) season for him.”
A REGULAR LIFE
Southall’s coaching desire subliminally might have led him to an agreeable profession – but one he would naturally make his own. After a brief stint in commercial fishing after high school, he took a job with the Emerson Oil, Inc., established in 1946. A year ago, he bought the company.
“My parents knew the owners … and they suggested the job,” Southall said. “So, I met them and thought ‘how bad could this be?’ So, I gave it a try. About seven or eight years ago, I started running the company because the owner was becoming elderly … so it’s been a natural progression. It gives me the freedom to do what I do in the summertime.”
The summer gig isn’t all spent in a third-base coach’s box. Southall is like a general manager putting together teams from six area towns all while coordinating baseball time and travel requirements for a few dozen young people wanting to enjoy their summer.
“We play seven days a week,” Southall said. “Some days there are (multiple) games, whether it’s my son’s games – I get his field ready and help coach his All-Star team. It’s nothing to spend 30 to 40 hours a week.
“But I make sure we work in some vacations. After the high school season and before Legion starts, I always take a week vacation with the family. We go down to the Jersey shore. And then I also plan a vacation at the end of August once baseball wraps up.”
As Trask pointed out, despite the success of Southall’s teams, he is highly regarded and well liked by foes and colleagues throughout the state for his skills and demeanor.
“He is kind of like a baseball savant,” said Mark Leff, a former Babe Ruth coach now Southall’s Legion assistant. “(Tuesday) we were down 3-0 and in the bottom of the first we had a man on first base … (Southall) leans over to me and says ‘I’m thinking a double to the gap.’ Three pitches later Cam James (whose father Paul played for Southall as a Little Leaguer more than 30 years ago) hit a double into the gap. He just has an unbelievable instinct for the game.”
Running any organization, however, requires more than technical skill.
“He’s an exceptional leader,” Leff said. “He has great rapport with the players while at the same time he has expectations for them. That’s what good leaders do, and that’s why he’s had the level of success he’s had. This is an exceptional person. I’m just proud he’s become one of my best friends.”
But leave it to a mother to sum things up.
“One of the biggest things about Timmy is he has always cared about young people,” Barbara Southall said. “He’d bring them home for dinner. There was always a lot of compassion there and there still is as an adult.”
And you can be sure Southall will be in a dugout, leading young people for some time to come.
“I’ll never change,” Southall said. “I love it. It can be daunting at times, but I just love it.”