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Tim Chambers, Las Vegas baseball mainstay, fought demons amid love of the game

Updated October 28, 2019 - 10:05 pm

Tim Chambers fought demons. We all do.

We all own some measure of darkness.

I just wish like anything his had fully transformed into a bright light.

Chambers died Sunday night at age 54, just days after foot surgery, leaving behind one of the most successful careers in Southern Nevada history.

We spoke at length in 2017 about his struggles, both the mental and physical anguish of countless major surgeries and his addiction to alcohol and dependence on painkillers.

He had undergone more than 20 procedures. His back, his feet, his elbow, his leg, his labrum, his knee. He was put under anesthesia 18 times. His body was a virtual demolition derby.

That conversation was the first time he talked publicly since being fired by UNLV in December 2015, the final straw being his arrest for driving under the influence after he fell asleep at the wheel on the Las Vegas Beltway near the McCarran International Airport connector tunnel and crashed his truck into sand-filled barrels.

He wanted to coach college ball again in the most impassioned way, wanted to return to the one place he fit, where more than anywhere else in life, he found peace. He owned a house but wanted to go home.

“I only know how to do one thing,” Chambers said. “I can’t build a bridge or dig a ditch or write this story. Baseball is my savior. I need to be coaching. God put me on this Earth to change young lives. I know that for sure … I miss the kids so much.”

He had two great loves in life, his family and baseball, the latter forging the sort of loyal, incredibly committed relationships from players and close friends who never wavered in their support.

The darker things got, the more they stood by him.

They loved Skip unconditionally.

Chambers also lived hard. Crown Royal was his tonic of choice and as much a medication as anything prescribed by a doctor. He was one of several alcoholics spread across both sides of his family. He owned that.

He spoke openly about the abuse he suffered as a child at the hand of his father, cruel, incomprehensible treatment. He told the story about when his father died at age 52, about demanding the coffin be open so, in Chambers’ words, he could “make sure the son of a bitch was really in there.”

“A really sad final chapter for Tim, and by that I mean his ouster at UNLV to him now passing,” said Rob Miech, a Las Vegas-based author whose book, ‘The Last Natural,’ followed then-phenom Bryce Harper through the 2010 baseball season at College of Southern Nevada, where Chambers was head coach. “I don’t think Tim totally ever overcame his demons, and I think his childhood and the horrible things that happened to him was with him every day. Things most of us could never imagine.

“Tim talked about death with me often. He feared it tremendously. This really is a feeling of profound sadness. Skip gave me the chance of a lifetime during that 2010 season. He handed me the project of my life. Baseball was his lifeblood. I’m convinced there were little baseballs in his DNA.”

Love of family

Chambers’ eyes welled in 2017 when speaking about wife Kimberlie and daughters McKenzie and Chase, about how the roller coaster of mistakes he had made affected them. He was a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of guy. Raw. Animated.

He absolutely cherished three decades of local players, from Bishop Gorman High to CSN to UNLV. When any of them made the majors, he was one of their first calls, crying on the phone more than any parent.

He was like so many, as it has been said, a blemished soul committed to the best of intentions.

He never again ran a college program, never truly returned home. That was of his own doing.

This was Chambers in April, talking to Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski:

“I’ve been sober for 18 months. I drank because the pills didn’t work. … Addiction, depression, anxiety. All that played into everything. … The way everything went down was terrible. My worst days were after UNLV. What do I do, what do I do? I can’t walk.

“I’m gonna go and help Liberty (High) for maybe a couple of weeks. I’m going to try this, to see if I can walk around that field a little bit. If I can, I’m going to go for a (college) job.

“I’m good, baby.”

Rest easy, Skip.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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