Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Tim Chambers is telling a story from this year’s postseason, the Rebels’ first trip to an NCAA Regional since 2005.
UNLV’s manager approaches the mound in Oregon State’s Goss Stadium at Coleman Field to pull starting pitcher John Richy in a losing effort against UC Irvine. One week later Richy will be the 98th selection in the MLB Draft, and though the junior doesn’t know that he’s aware this is likely his last time in a Rebel uniform.
Richy starts crying. He doesn’t want it to end. Chambers looks around the pristine stadium with 2,813 fans in attendance and reminds Richy, a fringe recruit who ended up having a stellar career, that there were maybe 150 fans at some of their first games together at UNLV.
The message: This may be the end for you at UNLV, but you’re only getting started in baseball. And thanks to your help, so is this program.
“My vision is to have us with an ass in every one of those seats (at home),” Chambers said. “I know that I can do it. … We’re going to get to where we want to go, and I fully believe it’s going to be at UNLV because I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
But if he has to? Well, Chambers has options around the game and if the business doesn’t make sense at UNLV, maybe it will somewhere else.
In the wake of Chambers’ fourth season at UNLV it’s clear he doesn’t want to be anywhere else. He has more than two decades of baseball experience in Las Vegas, including turning College of Southern Nevada into the best collegiate team in the area.
Now he wants to do the same thing at UNLV, building a consistent winner on a nucleus of local talent that fans would enjoy watching for a few hours on a sun-soaked weekend. Chambers’ contract runs through next season, but he feels the Mountain West regular-season title, postseason trip and MLB Draft success warrant a raise on his $110,000 salary.
For a cash-strapped program like UNLV any increase could be an issue. Chambers said he believes the administration wants him to stay. Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy declined any comment on the baseball program until a new deal is reached.
The timing for the negotiating has to do with UNLV’s recent success and Chambers having only one year remaining on his current deal. The season, which ended with a 1-2 record in the NCAA Regional, had even more potential before injuries and a cold stretch at the plate felled the Rebels.
“I really felt like we had enough to get where we wanted to go, which is Omaha,” Chambers said. “But then they start falling like Humpty Dumpty on the wall.”
UC Irvine, the team that handed UNLV its first loss and an occasional regular-season foe, went on to claim that College World Series spot Chambers believed his team could achieve. Irvine went 4-0 against No. 1 seeds in order to become one of the last eight teams remaining.
If they were healthy, Chambers believes, maybe that could have been the Rebels. Instead it was a good first step that led to a program-record two players drafted in the top 100 of the MLB Draft.
It’s a start, nothing more, and Chambers knows the most important criteria for sustaining it. It has to do with putting butts in the Earl E. Wilson Stadium seats and making this baseball program matter to a feast or famine sports community in a way that more than justifies a raise.
“If you win, they will bleed it. If you lose they will kick your ass to the curb in a heartbeat,” Chambers said. “That’s my goal, to have them bleed it.”