As a minor league outfielder for the Orioles in the 1980s, Matt Tyner would step to the plate with frizzy, long hair and what teammates remember as a “wild” and “a little reckless” approach.
“He just had these eyes,” said Tim Norris, who played with Tyner as members of the Single-A Hagerstown Suns in 1981. “You felt like he looked right through you.”
The power-hitting outfielder made good on the glares throughout his four minor league seasons, leading the Orioles organization in home runs in 1981 before an elbow injury cut his professional rise short.
Now back in the Baltimore area — Towson introduced him Friday as its new head baseball coach — Tyner wants to use the same passion and intensity to boost a Tigers program that has battled recent losing seasons and poor funding.
“To be back in Baltimore, obviously, is a lifelong dream,” said Tyner, 58. “It started out a long time ago, when I actually thought I was going to be here in a different capacity, as a player, but injury kind of derailed that particular career, and now I get the chance to comeback in a coaching capacity. Fantastic.”
Towson finished 20-34 in former coach Mike Gottlieb’s 30th year. After the team was almost eliminated because of budget cuts in 2013, the Tigers haven’t managed a winning season, and Gottlieb was fired in May, opening the spot for Tyner, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant at Richmond.
Tyner learned the importance of team chemistry and communication — two values he plans to implement at Towson — while emerging as a star outfielder at Miami.
The Orioles chose him in the ninth round of the 1980 draft, and he played during what former Oriole Larry Sheets — Tyner’s teammate with the Charlotte O’s in 1983 — called the “glory days” of the team’s farm system.
In 1981, Tyner established his power with Hagerstown to hit 31 home runs, the most of any player in the Orioles organization that season.
Norris said Tyner didn’t have a two-strike approach that season, rather opting for “his money’s worth every at-bat.” Tyner joked his manager, future Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Grady Little, sometimes wanted to “wring his neck” for the extra aggression.
But he didn’t, and Tyner wants to emulate Little’s patience in his first Division I head coaching position. He led Bellarmine’s Division II program in 2012 and 2013.
“You just take bits and pieces from guys that you played for,” said Sheets, now the coach at Gilman, joking he’d press Tyner to recruit his players. “Then you make it part of your own coaching style.”
“I’m not a cookie-cutter guy,” Tyner said. “From a power perspective, if we’ve got power on the team, I’m going to work with it and try to get it better. If all we are [is] contact [hitters], that’s fine with me, too. We’ll lead the country in doubles. And if that’s not what we got, then we’ll figure out how to steal bases and figure out how to walk.”
Tyner’s focus on offense thrived at Richmond, where he trained the Spiders’ hitters and managed recruiting. He worked with the players using weighted sticks and tennis balls, and emphasized batting cage sessions before games.
“He got guys to continue to hit, and I think guys get into a pattern, and they say they want to hit then,” Richmond coach Tracy Woodson said. “It kind of rubs off between him and the players.”
But Tyner wasn’t afraid to cut loose, and flash some of his own skills.
During batting practice when Richmond played at Virginia in May, he stepped to the plate and took a hack. The ball went over the Davenport Field wall, and he received a standing ovation from the Cavaliers players.
He wants the same balance of expectation and fun at Towson, so he concluded his first act at the team’s helm — his introductory news conference — by channeling the tenacious, competitive persona he had as a professional player more than 30 years ago.
“To all of my opponents,” Tyner said, “welcome to the jungle.”