Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Before Tim Chambers unlocks the front gates of Earl E. Wilson Stadium, he asks a companion not to merely see what’s there — the sun-bleached and dirt-stained outfield wall, the faded red paint — but to envision what he believes it will become.
For a coach taking over a fledgling Division-I college baseball program, this is where it begins: better facilities.
Better facilities attract better players. Better players lead to more wins. And winning teams draw more fans, who help fund better facilities. And so on.
That’s how Chambers sees things playing out at UNLV. And he is hoping others — players, administrators, donors and fans — see it too.
When Buddy Gouldsmith was let go after seven years as UNLV’s coach, Chambers was the logical hire for Athletic Director Jim Livengood. Following a successful decade at Bishop Gorman, Chambers in 1999 started from scratch the program at the College of Southern Nevada, which during his 11 years there, won the 2003 National Junior College Athletic Association title and returned to the JuCo World Series this year, behind 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper.
After one year in the program, Harper entered the Major League Baseball amateur draft and was selected first overall by the Washington Nationals.
The timing also felt right for Chambers to pursue new opportunities.
“Going to the series again, coaching the No. 1 pick, we had nine kids drafted, I really felt like I wanted a new challenge,” he said. “When the job became available, (UNLV) had a new athletic director, you could see there was change. They wanted to win, that was very clear to me.”
Chambers brings to UNLV a stellar reputation within the Las Vegas Valley’s talent-rich baseball community. And he has another key skill: fundraising prowess that supported the CSN program.
That combination had the attention of Livengood, who wants the university’s athletic department to ultimately become self-sufficient, not needing of a single dollar of state money.
“A lot of people are good coaches but don’t necessarily want to fundraise,” Livengood said. “That’s a huge part of it, particularly in this process and the economic times we’re in now.”
After he took the UNLV job, several of Chambers’ donors at CSN lined up to help resurrect the Rebels.
When they asked how they could help, Chambers gave them brochures listing “wants” and “needs.”
“With the economy the way it is, you can’t just go out and say ‘Want, want, want, want,’ ” he said.
The needs were improvements to the stadium, to make it friendlier to players, fans and media.
The wants were a longer list: a new clubhouse, a new synthetic outfield surface, an overhang for the bleachers, a two-story press box, new batting cages and a video scoreboard.
Donors contributed almost all of the money for the "needed" stadium improvements, which are under way at a cost Chambers estimated from $60,000 to $100,000. All that was funded out of the school’s pocket were two flat-screen TVs and couches for the refurbished clubhouse lounge area.
M Resort Chairman and CEO Anthony Marnell III, who played for Chambers at Gorman in the early 1990s, paid to remodel the locker rooms and furnished the labor.
Donald and Robert Ellis of SNAP Towing paid for new infield grass. Other contributions helped provide a fresh coat of red paint, new black padding behind the backstop, a fresh halo around the batting circle and a black tarp among the small-yet-noticeable changes.
More improvements are planned. But the more immediate task is fielding a winning team.
Chambers brought with him to UNLV 11 members of last season’s CSN roster. Five are Las Vegans, meaning that a program that had only eight local players last season now has 18. Immediately, the team will have a greater built-in local following.
Many of those who came with Chambers put other scholarship offers on hold in anticipation of the UNLV scenario playing out.
“If he was going to come here, this is where I wanted to be,” infielder and Las Vegas native Scott Dysinger said.
Once on campus, Chambers had personnel decisions to make. Some players from last season’s team, which went 29-29, would not be welcomed back.
At the same time, he reassured the remaining players that he would be evenhanded. He made the promise after an August meeting held by the athletic department that involved not only the administration, but every student-athlete and coach at UNLV.
“The new guys were all on one side — it was like the sixth-grade dance, with boys on the right, girls on the left,” Chambers joked. “I told them ‘I don’t care if you’ve played for me, I don’t care if I love you, like you or know you better than this guy. The best guys are going to play.’
“I’m not stupid enough to, at this level in baseball, play somebody because I like him more than the other guy.”
His approach has players competing for jobs at nearly every position, as the Rebels conduct fall practices which run through Nov. 23.
“In the summer, hearing about all the guys I played with who weren’t coming back was like ‘Oh, that’s a bummer,’ ” sophomore pitcher Tanner Peters said. “But then the next second, it was ‘OK, I’m ready, ready for a change,’ because obviously stuff wasn’t working out before.”
UNLV could now challenge TCU, which has dominated the Mountain West Conference in recent years behind former Rebels coach Jim Schlossnagle. But Chambers’ goals go beyond league championships.
He has commitments from six of the valley’s top senior prospects and will test them against the best teams in the nation.
The 2012 season opens with a home series against Cal State-Fullerton, and Chambers hopes to land future sets against Georgia, UCLA, Texas and others programs that have reached the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
It’s a trip that UNLV has never made. But Chambers believes it can happen for the Rebels soon, and people in and around the program are beginning believe it too.
“If you’re in this business, you better have your standards set to win at the highest level,” he said.