Pair of Tigers Headed to Washington State Coaches Hall of Fame
Cat’s Pajamas: Tim Gilmore and Jay Hultberg Set for HOF Induction on Saturday
By Jordan Nailon
It was 1973 when Tim Gilmore and Jay Hultberg first donned their Tiger stripes. Gilmore was a first year assistant coach with the Centralia High School baseball team and Hultberg was a freshman catcher for the Tigers.
On Saturday, 45 years after they first shared a dugout, Gilmore and Hultberg will be inducted into the Washington State Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame together during a ceremony in Yakima.
Hultberg donned the tools of ignorance for Centralia until 1976 before moving on to pursue his secondary education while continuing to spike up collegiately at Lower Columbia College and Linfield College.
“I wasn’t quite good enough to go on past college and I realized that so I knew that I needed to do something in those four years that baseball had given me the opportunity to utilize,” said Hultberg.
When his playing days were over Hultberg taught one year in the Centralia School District before moving on to North Mason High School for a 35 year career teaching history. He also coached varsity baseball for 30 years before retiring in 2010.
Hultberg credited legendary Centralia High School basketball coach Ron Brown for inspiring him to get into both coaching and teaching. Hultberg played for Brown and also had him as a teacher on several occasions. Then, once it came time for Hultberg to commence his student teaching experience in college he was able to accumulate his 100 required hours by working alongside Brown at the old school.
“I admired him as a student and then working alongside him for that month, and history was an interest for me, and that turned into the direction that I wanted to go,” said Hultberg.
Hultberg added that he considers teaching in the school where you coach “a huge advantage” because it allows a coach time to connect with his players during the day. He said that being in the school also helps to keep players on track academically and communicate with other teachers before small problems get out of hand.
Similarly, Hultberg believes that his time spent behind the dish helped to prepare him for a career coaching baseball. He noted that the vast majority of coaches that he played for over the years were catchers during their playing days.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s because of what the position demands as far as knowing the game,” said Hultberg. “You have to know everybody’s job. And back then, coaches didn’t call pitches either. The pitcher and the catcher got together and they were calling the game. And that was a huge advantage. And the bunt defense and the 1st and 3rd situations… That all helps out as coach.”
Hultberg said the best pitcher he caught in his career was Bud Black, currently manager of the Colorado Rockies, when they were teammates on the Red Devils. However, not every pitcher Hultberg handled had major league chops, and they all had different personalities, and he had to figure out how to best manage them all. Again, that experience paid dividends for Hultberg once he became the skipper of his own team.
“As a coach that’s something you really have to do. You’re dealing with individuals. There’s some guys that you need to go out there and get in there face a little bit and there’s some guys you need to baby, and you learn how to do that with your pitchers,” explained Hultberg.
These days Hultberg can be found haunting the Chehalis Little League fields coaching eight year old baseball with his and son when he’s not selling real estate for “his encore career.” And although it’s been more than four decades since they first crossed paths, Hultberg can quickly recall what it was like to play for a young Tim Gilmore.
“He knew the game and played the game. And that far back you didn’t necessarily have quality coaching but Centralia was pretty fortunate that they had some guys who knew the game pretty well. And Tim, even though he was young, he knew the game very well,” said Hultberg, who also played for Gilmore in American Legion baseball as a senior.
“He was such a great guy. He’s a quality coach. A coaches coach because he has done it in other sports too,” said Hultberg. “I have never met a better guy in my life than Tim Gilmore. He’s just a quality individual.”
Gilmore, who has likely never forgotten the name of any player he has ever met, harbors fond memories of a young Jay Hultberg as well.
“He was just so quiet, kind of unassuming. Kind of a lumbering kid, but you turn on the cock, throw the first pitch, and he was a competitor,” said Gilmore as he emphasised each syllable. “He was just a leader. He was fun to watch and fun to coach.”
Gilmore began his career at Centralia in 1972 in special education and wound up on the baseball coaching staff the following year. Six years later he was filling out the Tigers lineup cards himself.
“I was somehow hornswoggled into the head coaching job,” joked Gilmore, who held the head baseball coach title for eight years.
During those eight years at the helm, Gilmore’s squads qualified for Regionals seven times and made it to the state final four four times.
“It had nothing to do with coaching. I had everything to do with a whole bunch of good players,” insisted Gilmore.
Gilmore, known as “Gil” to many around the Hub City, is a ubiquitous figure around Centralia High School. He’s seemingly undertaken every task from taking tickets to announcing lineups, always keeping a keen eye on the student section.
In addition to his stint as head baseball coach, Gilmore served as head volleyball coach from 1983 through 1990. However, after 45 years coaching local youth sports from Little League to the varsity level, Gilmore is absolutely certain that he prefers to the life of an assistant coach role to that of the head honcho.
He cites two reasons for that preference. The first is that he has an acute distaste for the reams of administrative paperwork that come along with a head coaching gig. The other, more important, reason is that he feels he is able to better forge relationships with players as an assistant coach.
When he cites his responsibilities as an assistant coach the list is not extensive in length, but it is all inclusive in nature. “I am there to passionately support the head coach,” said Gilmore. “God gave me a gift to work with and help people and now I can do that for the head coach.”
Although he is now retired from teaching Gilmore is still acting as assistant coach for the high school volleyball team. He also served as an assistant coach to Ron Brown on the basketball court for 32 years. Still, with more than 25 years coaching experience in volleyball, and 12 years of coaching football, Gilmore says baseball has always been his first love.
“My hand has always been in the cookie jar with baseball,” he said with a laugh. The game has made such a profound impact on Gilmore that he is considering dedicating his three minute Hall of Fame acceptance speech to all of the blessings the game has brought into his life over the years.
“It’s really because of baseball that I had a relationship with my father,” said Gilmore. “We got to have a catch.”
Gilmore says he plans to continue haunting the hauls and fields of Centralia High School in the years. However, for the last 11 years he has been making semi-regular trips to Cambodia to dig wells and work on other water and sanitation projects. He says that his mission work has become the biggest passion in his life and provided him with a new perspective on life as an American.
After nearly a half century working with area youths in the classroom, on the court, and on the field, Gilmore says its not the big games or standardized test scores that he remembers the most. More than the wins and losses, it’s the personal relationships he has forged with students and athletes that mean the most to him now.
To wit – Gilmore spoke at this week’s baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors upon request and he says he has officiated 27 weddings for former students and players over the last four and a half years since becoming ordained.
Gilmore says he has long told those close to him that making it into the coaches hall of fame was not a priority for him and he harbors suspicions about which of his friends went behind his back and nominated him for the honor. Still, as he prepared his acceptance speech earlier this week Gilmore said he feels lucky to have had the career that he has.
“Coaches just didn’t mind having me around because they saw my ability to develop relationships with kids,” he said.
The Washington State Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Yakima Convention Center.