Labor of love: For longtime Timpanogos High baseball coach Kim Nelson, the golf course can wait
Timberwolves skipper has been the only coach the program has ever known, and he’s not ready to hang up his cleats yet
In the last couple of years, longtime baseball coach Kim Nelson has seen two no-hitters and even a triple play.
But as Timpanogos High’s 2022 season progresses, guess what is the most common question the 65-year-old coach hears?
“I don’t have anything to announce,” said Nelson, who, if you’re counting, has been a high school baseball coach for 42 straight seasons. “I hear the rumor mills all the time. There is nothing to it. I still enjoy coaching. I enjoy the relationship with the kids; I love the game. For right now, I’m not ready to get into that golf cart and ride off into the sunset. I don’t have any target.”
Nelson has never been one to toot his horn, but his sports career has been full of highlights. It started in Davis County, where he starred in football and baseball at Viewmont High. The Vikings challenged for the state baseball championship all three seasons he was on the team and won it once. That helped earn him a scholarship to BYU, and he had a fine career, there, too.
According to BYU records, he batted .335, smacked 30 home runs and even stole a few bases.
Nelson said he had a chance to play professional baseball, but turned down a California Angels contract after his junior year in order to stay in school. He also wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to play on a USA All-Star team the following summer that narrowly missed a gold medal in an amateur tournament in Central America.
“It was a fun experience,” he recalled. “Every game we played (in Nicaragua), there were 20,000-30,000 fans. It was amazing. I played most games and had reasonable success.”
At about the same time, Nelson also got married, and that too changed his priorities. After a short stint living at home with his parents, where he served as an assistant baseball coach at Viewmont, he was offered a job as a teacher/coach at American Fork High and has been on the rise ever since.
Nelson headed the Cavemen program for 16 years, then moved to Timpanogos when the school opened in 1996. He has been the only baseball coach the Timberwolves have known. After earning two crowns at American Fork, he has led Timpanogos to six state titles.
“I remember going to those first coaches clinics, and seeing the coaches and remembering, ‘They were there when I was playing,’ and now I can only imagine what some of those younger coaches are thinking when I walk in there.”
Changes in the game
From 1980 to 2022, so much has happened in between. It certainly has with high school baseball.
“It has changed a lot for the better,” he said. “With the amount of baseball that younger kids are playing … traveling teams …. there is a good thing to that. There are always the cream-of-the-crop players, who will get attention. Where baseball has changed is that layer just beneath them.
“There are more players that are getting opportunities. When I went to school, you could play (college baseball) at Weber, Utah, BYU and SUU, but the JCs (junior colleges) are better. There are also a lot of kids that are leaving the state and playing at JCs and Division II schools in other states. That’s happened a lot more in the last four to five years.”
Nelson also seen the negatives, particularly at Timpanogos, which has had to juggle its success with injury problems.
“The kids are playing against better competition, but not so good is the amount they play. I’ve had three kids in the last five years that have had maybe not Tommy John surgery, but close to it. That comes from pitching too much.”
Fortunately, coaching (and managing) isn’t as demanding on his body, and the biggest stresses Nelson faces these days are from his family. Several of his eight children have made high school baseball games part of their favorite pastime for many years. Even Nelson’s wife, Leslie, said she has no idea how they will fill their time when there’s no more Timpanogos games to attend.
Nelson, of course, tries to brush that aside — at least publicly — while he leads the Timberwolves. Their last state crown was two years ago and, even though they suffered a three-game sweep at Jordan last weekend, he feels they still have a chance.
Hunting for another title
“There’s no doubt we’re still trying to find that leadership,” he said. “Jordan is a good team. Those first two games, they made winning plays; we didn’t. If we win those two games, which could have gone either direction, then Friday could have been different.
“It was a close game and we got the bases loaded in that one (fifth) inning, then we hit ground balls right at somebody. Maybe if they find a hole, then we’re back even. We have the ability to be a good as anybody else.
“After that, it’s up to coaching.”
And that will always be a factor that will favor the Timberwolves, who are 6-6 overall and 3-3 in Region 8 play. What will it take for his squad — or any other — to win it all?
“I always look back to (the year) 2000,” he said. “It was our fourth year (at Timpanogos). We had a few good players, but it was a year that I can really look at and see the seniors were the players. They worked very hard and created a good atmosphere. They cared about each other. That’s what I’ve looked for the last 20 years.
“It helps to have talent, but I’ve always tried to emphasize those guys stepping into that role and showing how hard you have to work, and every time, a younger kid or two you don’t expect steps up and makes plays.”
It’s those types of kids Nelson will recall best when he hangs up his cleats for the final time. One of those kids, he remembered, was former BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“He was my ferocious second baseman,” Nelson said.
More than a baseball coach
Besides being a player and a coach, Nelson’s career also included a long stint as a football official. In fact, he refereed college games for 15 years and likes to tell this story:
“I was in the Mountain West Conference for 11 of those years and, in Bronco’s first or second year at BYU, my crew got assigned a BYU-Colorado State game in Fort Collins.
“My crew knew I went to BYU, but I didn’t tell anybody that I coached Bronco. I was a side judge on the CSU side (of the field), but before the game, we go to the other side of the field and shake hands with the coaches and introduce ourselves. We go over there, and shake hands with Bronco, and he said, ‘I know him. He’s MY coach’ All the other officials … their eyes got so big.”
Nelson has since retired from officiating, but admitted it wasn’t as meaningful as when he will hang up his baseball cleats the final time.
“Baseball has always been a family affair,” he said. “The support all my kids, and especially my wife, have given me to do something I enjoy just makes it better.”
Nelson also fondly recalled the role his older brother, Dave, played in his career. He called Dave “one of the biggest influences in my life.” Dave Nelson coached at Utah Valley from 1976-90 and died of colon cancer in 2002 at age 52.
Nelson will likely learn he played a similar role in other’s lives, if they come out of the woodwork after he retires.
Until then, he’ll keep trying to win another state crown.
Eventually, he admitted, he’ll likely change his focus to golf. He and Leslie recently moved to a home that borders a golf course, and Nelson often gets a head start on the day by taking his clubs and cutting through the fence onto the course and playing as many as nine holes before the clubhouse even opens.
He doesn’t need a cart, though, and it may be a while before he does.