Skip to main content

For love of the game: Tim Saunders reaches milestone with 600 career wins

The Dublin Jerome head coach got win No. 600 with the Celtics after coaching at Dublin Coffman for 33 seasons
Dublin Jerome head baseball coach Tim Saunders talks to his team during a 2-1 win over Dublin Coffman on April 25. (Photo: Gabe Haferman)

Dublin Jerome head baseball coach Tim Saunders talks to his team during a 2-1 win over Dublin Coffman on April 25. (Photo: Gabe Haferman)

When Tim Saunders retired from coaching baseball and teaching physical education at Dublin Coffman at the end of the 2020 school year, he felt completely satisfied with his career and he had no intention of coaching at the high school level again.

That abruptly changed when Saunders’ close friend and longtime assistant coach, Mike Ulring, asked him in September to help Dublin Jerome find a new baseball coach.

After making several phone calls to see who was available to take over the program on relatively short notice, Saunders ultimately decided to coach the Celtics himself.

“Tim didn’t need this job, but we were in a tough position, so I asked him to make some calls to help us find someone,” said Ulring, who is director of principal leadership for Dublin City Schools, after serving as Coffman’s principal for 12 years and Coffman’s assistant principal for 10 years. “Tim eventually came back and said ‘I have to do this because those kids need me and I want them to have a good experience.’ 

"Tim doesn’t have anything left to prove, but he’s the most unselfish person I know, and he’s doing this for the kids.”

Ironically, Saunders’ altruistic decision has led to the legendary coach achieving another major personal milestone, as he earned his 600th career victory on May 15, while guiding the 26th-seeded Celtics to a 13-3 victory over 50th-seeded Columbus South in five innings in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

Photo provided by Tim Saunders

Photo provided by Tim Saunders

With the victory, Jerome improved to 11-14 overall and advanced to the second round of district, to play at second-seeded Watterson on Wednesday.

“I know that 600 wins is a really big deal, and I’m proud and grateful for it, but I didn’t come back for this,” said Saunders, who has a career record of 600-407 in 38 seasons. “I just felt bad for the kids because they were stuck in a tough situation and I wanted to help them and their school out.

“I’m in this for the love of the game and not the numbers. When I first started out coaching at Pomeroy Meigs, we went 4-15 my first year and 5-14 my second season, and I just wanted to survive and stay in the business, because I knew I was going to be a lifer coach.

“Back then, I just thought that I’d like to keep coaching long enough to get to 100 wins. I never would have dreamed that I’d win 600 games.”

After coaching at Coffman for 33 seasons, Saunders certainly never could have anticipated that he would pull off the feat wearing a Jerome uniform.

Saunders likely would have collected his 600th victory during his final season at Coffman in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended up wiping out the entire regular season.

“I was ready for my last year and we were supposed to leave for spring break the next week, when COVID hit and they told us to clean out our lockers and go home,” Saunders said. “This was all supposed to blow over in a few weeks, but I knew deep down that this was huge. When I was cleaning out my locker, (Dublin City Schools counselor) Dr. GeorgiAnn Diniaco, who was also retiring in 2020 came down and we both cried, because we knew that we weren’t coming back.”

Saunders originally planned on working as an assistant baseball coach at Ohio State University under then-head coach Greg Beals, beginning in the fall of 2020.

But after the pandemic led to a hiring freeze, Saunders quickly switched gears and began working as a member of the grounds maintenance staff for Scioto Country Club, a private golf course in Upper Arlington.

Saunders is well-qualified for the job, after building Coffman’s renowned baseball stadium into one of the top high school ballparks in the country.

The 64-year-old coach helped raise more than $600,000 to build and maintain the immaculate facilities over the course of his career, and he half-jokingly insists that he spent more time meticulously grooming what is now officially dubbed Tim Saunders Field than he spent at home.

Photo provided by Tim Saunders 

Photo provided by Tim Saunders 

In 1998, Saunders’ beautifully-manicured field was recognized by the American Baseball Coaches Association as the national high school field of the year.

“For (33) years, if the sun was up, Tim was working on something here,” said his wife of 35 years, Janie Saunders, drawing a chuckle from friends listening to a post-game interview, just moments after Jerome earned a 2-0 victory at Coffman on April 25.

Saunders also built the Shamrocks into one of the top high school baseball programs in central Ohio, leading them to 10 league titles, five district championships and two regional titles, including a Division I state semifinal appearance in 2000 and the state championship in 2001.

“Tim obviously has a great work ethic, and a passion for baseball, but his biggest strength has always been his heart because it’s so big,” said Ulring, who assisted Saunders at Coffman for 13 seasons and was the 2007 National Baseball Coaches Association District 4 Assistant Coach of the Year. “Tim always has done things the right way, and he would do anything for anybody. The kids know that Tim loves them, and when they understand that, you can coach them as hard as you want, because they know that you have their best interests in your mind and your heart.”

Saunders’ players also have benefited from his success, as more than 100 of them have gone on to play college baseball and six of them were selected in the Major League Baseball draft.

Doug DeVore, a 1996 Coffman graduate who was selected in the 12th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999, played 50 games for the Diamondbacks in 2004.

Kent Mercker, a 1986 Dublin graduate who was selected by the Atlanta Braves as the fifth pick of the 1986 draft, also enjoyed an 18-year MLB career after playing two seasons of American Legion baseball under Saunders.

Other Coffman graduates selected in the MLB draft during Saunders’ tenure include Bart Hunton (Cincinnati Reds, 46th round of 2001 draft), Brock Hunton (Boston Red Sox, 32nd round in 2002), Austin Cousino (Seattle Mariners, third round in 2014) and Joey Murray (Toronto Blue Jays, eighth round in 2018).

“Education’s a crazy business in that our job is to change people’s lives, and I can’t tell you how many times Tim’s changed a kid’s life,” Ulring said. “So many of Tim’s players have gone on to be successful in so many ways. Tim taught me that baseball is going to do more for most kids than they will do for baseball, and that’s why he keeps large rosters instead of cutting kids who aren’t going to play a lot.

“Tim has helped so many people, including other coaches, and it’s hard to put into words what a special guy he is. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Tim’s leadership. Whenever I have tough decision to make, I think about what Tim would do because I never want to disappoint him.”

Saunders’ hard work and attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaching peers.

The 1977 Olentangy graduate was elected to the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association (OHSBCA) Hall of Fame in 2004, the Central District Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Olentangy High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.

Saunders then became the first Ohioan to be inducted into the National High School Baseball Coaches Association (NHSBCA) Hall of Fame in 2012, and he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame on Jan. 6 in Nashville, Tenn.

The 1981 University of Rio Grande graduate also has served as president of the OHSBCA, Ohio Executive Director of the NHSBCA and chairman of the ABCA.

“I love coach Saunders, and so many other coaches feel the same way about him,” said Grove City coach Ryan Alexander, who led the Greyhounds to the Division I state final a year ago. “He’s so willing and able to help so many people out, and he always takes the time to help grow the game. I know I leaned on him a lot when I was a young coach in this area just starting out my career.”

Saunders made a big impact while working with USA baseball for close to two decades.

As an assistant coach, Saunders helped guide the USA 16-and-under nation team to a gold medal in the world championships in both 1997 and 1998.

He was named the USA Olympic Development Coach of the Year in 2000, after becoming the head coach of the 16-and-under national squad and helping it win gold in the Pan-American Games, with a 2-1 victory over Cuba in the championship game in Monterrey, Mexico.

“It’s humbling to be in all of those Hall of Fames,” said Saunders, who also served as an assistant coach at Indian University for two seasons, before being hired to coach the Shamrocks beginning with the 1988 season. “I started my career as an assistant coach (helping lead Portsmouth to a Class AA state runner-up finish and 28-4 mark in 1981). Then I was the head coach at Pomeroy Meigs for four seasons, and we struggled, before we turned things around (winning league titles his final two seasons). I never could have guessed I’d have this kind of career back then.”

After losing his chance to coach at Ohio State, Saunders instead was content to coach the Karrer Middle School the past two springs.

He wasn’t sure what to expect when agreed to take over Jerome’s program on short notice, but he’s enjoyed the experience.

“The Jerome kids are the same as the Coffman kids I coached all those years,” Saunders said. “It’s just a different setting now. I’m just trying the give our players the best advice and direction possible, same as I always have.”

Jerome junior Brayden Krenzel, a University of Tennessee pitching recruit, said Saunders has been an excellent replacement for Chris Huesman, whose contract wasn’t renewed after guiding the Celtics for the first 19 seasons of their existence.

“Coach Saunders brings accountability and hard work to our program, and he expects the same out of each of us,” Krenzel said. “He brings the best out of all of us.”

While he’s enjoying coaching at the high school level once again, Saunders said he isn’t sure how much longer he’s going to continue to coach the Celtics.

A lot of that will depend on how much longer his wife continues to teach journalism at Coffman. When Janie retires, the duo plans on spending more time traveling, including visiting their children Shelby and C.J.

Shelby, a 2013 Coffman graduate, works as a guidance counselor in Chicago.

C.J., a 2015 Coffman graduate, is entering his third season as a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers. The 26-year-old former Ohio State University team captain spent most of the past two seasons on the Panthers’ practice squad. But C.J. saw action in two games in 2021, making two catches for 11 yards.

“Finishing up the way we did in 2020 wasn’t a great way to end my high school career, and so this has been my second chance at my retirement year, and I’m enjoying it,” Saunders said. “When my wife retires from teaching, I’ll be done coaching, so I’ll look at my options when this season comes to an end. I’ll meet with everybody to talk about the future, but I know I’m close to the end of my career, and I’ve only got another one or two seasons left, tops.

“A lot of my plans, including coaching at OSU, didn’t come to fruition, because COVID changed everything. But maybe that was a blessing, because I’ve a great time working with great people at Scioto Country Club, Karrer and Jerome. Time goes by quickly when you have a passion for what you do, and I’ve been very fortunate to get to do what I love doing for a long time.”