BY DERMOT COLE
FAIRBANKS DAILY NEWS-MINER
EVERY BALLPLAYER dreams of making it to Cooperstown, where baseball preserves its past.
For Fairbanksan Sean Timmons, who started pitching in North Star Little League more than 20 years ago on fields carefully tended by the late Ken Rankin, the dream has come true.
His jersey and his Alaska Goldpanners hat are now part of a collection that includes nearly 35,000 items spanning the history of the game.
Most of those who wear the Goldpanners uniform play here for a year or two, but Timmons, 30, has pitched for nine seasons, going back to 1994.
A former athletic trainer, who also worked as a phlebotomist drawing blood at the Tanana Valley Clinic, he has been able to keep playing because he still has a fastball, slider and change-up.
He keeps in shape and even when he doesn’t practice he can throw strikes at about 89 mph.
Timmons had done no pitching since last July when he picked up a ball a few weeks ago and began to get ready for what he thought would be a cameo appearance in the Midnight Sun Game.
In mid-June, he returned to Fairbanks on a 14-day break from his classes at South University, where he is studying to become a physician’s assistant.
He played in two games this summer for the Panners and did not embarrass himself before an overflow crowd at the Midnight Sun Game, giving up one run and four hits in five innings of work. This is the third time he has been the winning pitcher in the summer solstice classic.
“I’ve always been a guy who can spot the ball real well. To this day that’s my game,” he said.
After Timmons was lifted for a relief pitcher, and before the game was over, a visiting Hall of Fame representative collected his No. 33 jersey, his hat and a ball to mark the centennial of midnight baseball.
“I couldn’t get a higher honor,” said Timmons.
The next day his arm felt fine, but the muscles in his legs, responsible for much of a pitcher’s power, were tired.
Don Dennis, who is closing in on 40 years as general manager of the team, says that Timmons “has had the greatest career of anyone who never had a career.”
Timmons, like almost everyone else who has played for the Panners, once had hopes of a career in professional baseball.
When he was 25, the Cincinnati Reds invited him to a tryout in Florida, at a time when he could hit 91 mph on the speed gun.
“The day I was going to go, they called and said I was too old,” he said. “I didn’t pick up a ball after that for three months.
“In hindsight, I’m glad it didn’t happen,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade a day of anything I’ve done with the Panners and coaching and anything else to sign a pro ball contract.
“I’m very much interested in school. I’m focusing more on using my head to make a living than using my body,” said Timmons.
He is now back in Georgia, continuing a medical training program that he hopes to complete by 2007.
It’s about a 13-hour drive from Savannah to Cooperstown, N.Y., Timmons figures, and he hopes to visit the Hall of Fame this year to see his jersey on display.
It is to be included in an exhibit called “Today’s Game,” which features important items collected this season, said Jeff Idelson, vice president of communications and education for the Hall of Fame.
Other artifacts in this season’s display are the uniform Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres was wearing when he notched his 400th save, the caps worn by Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux when the two 300-game winners faced each other, the bat Ken Griffey Jr. used to pass Eddie Murray on the all-time home run list, the cap worn by Frank Robinson in the first home game he managed for the new Washington Nationals and the jersey of the 11-year-old New York girl who pitched a perfect game in Little League.
Idelson said that something about the Midnight Sun Game belonged in the Hall of Fame and since Timmons has won the most games in the 46-year history of the Goldpanners, he was a natural choice.
And he may not be done winning games for the Goldpanners just yet. Timmons plans to be back in Fairbanks next summer doing clinical rotations as he continues his physician’s assistant training.
“If I get a little free time, I might throw a bit,” he said.