By David Ray Skinner
When Tim Flannery’s ancestors emigrated from Ireland to the rough-and-tumble coal-mining Appalachian region of Kentucky, they brought with them a strong work ethic, a devotion to God and a love of good music. This legacy has served him well, and somewhere along the way, he also learned to love the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. He grew up around music, but as a youth, he discovered a passion—and a talent—for baseball. In 1978, “Flan” (as he is known to family, friends and players) was playing for Chapman University in Orange, California when he was drafted by the San Diego Padres. In that first season, he batted .350 for the California League Reno Silver Sox. The following year, his six home runs and 71 RBIs earned him a call-up to the majors, and he played his first major league game with the Padres. In that first game, he was one-for-three, and he drove in the second run to earn the Padres a 3-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants. He was less than a month shy of his 22nd birthday.
Flan’s first full major league season was in 1982; two years later, he was playing with the Padres in the World Series as they went up against the Detroit Tigers. Always a fan favorite, Flan retired as a player in 1989, but continued with the game, becoming a third base coach for the Padres in 1995. When manager (and longtime friend) Bruce Bochy left the Padres for San Francisco, he took him along, and Flan became the Giants’ third base coach. Success followed—he helped coach San Francisco to World Series wins in 2010, 2012 and 2014. In November, following the Giants’ 2014 win, Flan retired, after 33 years in the game, saying, “I’m going to send myself home safely.”
Tim Flannery’s story, however, doesn’t end there. Throughout his career, he always managed to balance his life on the road with the time spent with his family—his wife Donna, his son and his two daughters. He also found the time to pursue his other passion, music. But as much as he loves writing and performing, throughout much of his baseball career, he tried to downplay his music.
“When I first came to coach with the Giants, I wasn’t really going to let anybody in on (the music),” Flan told the Santa Cruz Sentinal’s Wallace Bain in a 2013 interview, “Y’know, I just came to coach. And you don’t want to open your heart and get hurt. You don’t know how long you’re going to be there. So, I went there saying to myself that I’m just going to hide this part of my life from everybody and just do my job and coach third base.”
All of that changed, however, with a tragedy at Dodger Stadium on opening day in 2011. The sometimes-friendly, sometimes-fierce rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers (which dates back to the late 19th century when they were both New York City teams) turned violent when Giants fan Bryan Stow was critically assaulted in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. Stow would survive, but his rehabilitation and recovery was estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars.
That’s when Flan opened his guitar case and let his music out.
As the son of a minister, he had always sprinkled his Christian songs in with his tunes about baseball, heartache and Appalachia, but Stow’s story inspired him to “exercise his faith” and kick it up a notch. Also, at that time, the death of his father from Alzheimer’s (Flan was his everyday caretaker) was still a recent and painful memory of the ominous toll a family member’s illness or injury can take.
“I got beat up pretty good, physically and emotionally by that experience,” he told the Sentinal’s Bain, “So I know what it’s like to be a 24/7 caregiver. Seeing (Stow’s family) come together inspired me to continue. When someone gets hurt badly or dies, everyone is there for you in that first moment, but it’s easier to eventually go the other way, because everybody has their own lives and responsibilities and life goes on. But for me, it’s been a real honor to watch the strength of the circle of love around Bryan. What happened to him is a hate crime basically. And the only way to beat hate is to love harder. There’s no other way.”
Flan and his band, “Lunatic Fringe,” raised more than $70,000 for the Stow family through concerts and DVD sales. Additionally, through his “Love Harder Project” (http://www.operationloveharder.com) he has now expanded his fundraising to address homelessness and other issues close to his heart.
One of his songs off his “Kentucky Towns” album, “Foot of the Cross,” sums up his faith and is presented in the Appalachian style of his Kentucky roots:
“There’s a place where I go to when life gets me down; a place I find refuge in this cold-hearted town. I can bathe in the water, washed pure as snow and never again have to walk all alone. At the foot of the cross, hope can be found. Love takes the place of all that will be bound. Chains will be broken, guilt will be lost, when I come on my knees to the foot of the cross.”
For more about Tim Flannery, his music and his fundraising projects, you can visit his website @ http://www.timflannery.com or check out his music on iTunes, Amazon.com or CDBaby.com.