Myrtle Beach Pelicans manager Steve Lerud always sits in the same seat on the team bus. First row, right of the aisle, kitty-corner from the driver. On most road trips last year, Lerud’s first on the job, his spot gave him a direct line to driver Terrance Timmons. Sometimes they’d
Myrtle Beach Pelicans manager Steve Lerud always sits in the same seat on the team bus. First row, right of the aisle, kitty-corner from the driver. On most road trips last year, Lerud’s first on the job, his spot gave him a direct line to driver Terrance Timmons. Sometimes they’d chat. Late at night, Lerud checked to see how Timmons was holding up on long, dark drives. During more standard hours, Lerud often was within earshot as Timmons picked up the phone and greeted his wife through his headset.
“You could tell that was his world,” Lerud said. “You could hear the comfort in his voice and you could see the smile on his face when he answered, just the joy that he had for his family.”
Witnessing Timmons’ joy is what Lerud will miss most whenever the Class A Advanced Pelicans hit the road again. Timmons died earlier this month due to complications from COVID-19. He was 46 and left behind a wife, three children and a stepdaughter. A few days after his passing, the Pelicans created a GoFundMe to cover funeral costs and provide groceries for his family. The page nearly reached its goal of $5,000 overnight and closed with more than $8,300 raised.
Someone else will steer the Pelicans bus when baseball resumes, but no one will replace Timmons. Those he drove called him “T” or “Big T.” For four years, his smile was the first thing anyone boarding the bus saw. Before any trip -- no matter the distance -- he’d be waiting outside, usually sweating through a tank top in the summer humidity, ready to take bags. He designated separate bins for players and staff. Timmons wouldn’t accept anything less than a perfect fit, because strategy bred efficiency.
“It was almost like he was playing Tetris,” former Pelicans catcher Tyler Pearson said.
Timmons operated on time. If the doors to the bus were scheduled to close at 1 p.m., only the manager's instruction to wait for a tardy player stopped the doors from closing at 1 p.m. In transit, Timmons “had a bit of a lead foot at times,” Lerud said, though never at the expense of safety.
Still, Timmons found opportunities to entertain. Former Pelicans coach Ty Wright built a strong bond with him over their conversations on the road. They talked college football for hours; Timmons lived for the Clemson Tigers, while Wright pulled for Oklahoma State. They discussed family, and Timmons went out of his way to introduce his wife to Wright’s, since both women were teachers.
When Wright learned of Timmons’ death, he and other staffers started a text thread filled with stories about Timmons. The bus rides that stuck out to him were soundtracked by Timmons’ singing. Sometimes there was no music playing. Other times, the speakers blared with oldies tunes. “Otis Redding types,” Wright said.
“It's nice to know that someone who was serious about his job was also a down-to-earth, fun, cool person that was neat to be around,” former Pelicans broadcaster Scott Kornberg said. “You’d think, ‘Hey, I wish we didn't have to only see him on the road.’”
There were times in which Big T’s big voice made it difficult for Pearson to nap. But players respected Timmons because they shared some of the same struggles.
One night, after an extra-inning game and three or four hours into a ride back to Myrtle Beach, the bus broke down. It was hot. There was no air conditioning. Something like 100 miles remained on the trip. The players were exhausted, stranded on the side of the road. Timmons had to suffer with them.
“He lived the same lifestyle that we lived,” Pearson said. “He had the long bus rides -- he was the one driving the bus. I can't even imagine. It's long, overnight bus rides. He was gone from his family for road trips. He basically was one of us, in a sense.”
The breakdown robbed the Pelicans of another rendition of Timmons’ catchphrase, which came out any time he maneuvered the bus into a tricky parking spot or through winding curves. The path to the drop-off spot in Myrtle Beach qualified as both. Whenever the team arrived, playful taunts spewed at Timmons. Everyone doubted him. He always nailed it anyway.
“It’s what I do’s!” Timmons shouted between laughs.
Timmons made it look easy. It wasn’t. The job of a Minor League bus driver demands peak performance during off-peak hours. Myrtle Beach might be one of the more rigorous spots for the job. As the southernmost team in the Carolina League, the Pelicans log a lot of miles. Their longest trip -- to Wilmington, Delaware -- can take 9 1/2 hours. And with only rare day games played in Myrtle Beach, most trips run through the middle of the night.
The dedication to make it work was apparent in Timmons before his first ride. On media day in 2016, Kornberg waited outside the Pelicans clubhouse while preparing to brief the team on what was planned for the afternoon. Timmons showed up unannounced and asked to speak to then-manager Buddy Bailey. He was busy with the team, Kornberg told him. Timmons revealed he was the bus driver and he needed to hash out a plan for the first road trip with Bailey, and Kornberg connected them.
Timmons endeared himself to his passengers. He gave out his cell phone number so he’d be available at a moment's notice should a game get rained out. He drove with pace because arriving sooner was better for everyone. He could be quiet, but he was always willing to talk. On a bus filled with players less than half his age, he fit in.
“You have so many people come in and out of your life throughout the year, and the one constant is always your bus driver,” Lerud said. “That's the guy that's there late at night for you. He's there to be at your service, and I don't think people realize that person is on the team. And, really, Terrance was part of our team.”
Joe Bloss is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.