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May 9, 2013

Standing Tall

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tim Buheller wasn’t the biggest guy in the world when he played baseball at Tech, but his career numbers ended up being rather large

Tim Buheller had a knack for getting on base when he played for the Hokies in the mid-1980s, and he still holds several school records today.

When asked what was his greatest memory while playing baseball and going to school at Virginia Tech, Tim Buheller maybe gave the best answer ever.

“My favorite memory was every day at Tech,” he said.

Buheller, who played baseball at well-known Varina High School in Richmond, wound up at Tech almost by accident. He was getting ready to sign a letter-of-intent with Richmond or ODU or JMU – schools that were recruiting him pretty heavily – following his senior year, but he decided to attend a Cincinnati Reds tryout camp in Colonial Heights, Va., and it was there where a short man with an orange jacket took notice. This man started asking questions of a Cincinnati scout, particularly after Buheller blazed through the 60-yard dash. Buheller also hit a little, pitched some and played in the outfield, and he noticed the guy in the orange jacket watching him closely.

“There were only about seven or eight guys there, and I asked one of the guys, ‘Who is that guy in the orange jacket?’” Buheller said. “He said, ’That’s the Virginia Tech coach, Coach Hartman.’ Then I got nervous, but fortunately, I had done all my drills.”

Chuck Hartman, Tech’s longtime Hall of Fame coach, had never seen Buheller play in a game, but he offered the young man a scholarship on the spot. Buheller, who had never visited the Tech campus, talked things over with his parents for a couple of days before deciding to sign with the Hokies.

Buheller’s first visit to Blacksburg was a memorable one. It occurred in July of 1982 when he rolled into town to participate in the state’s all-star game. In his future home – which, at that time, was between Cassell Coliseum and Lane Stadium, where the football practice fields are currently located – he went 3-for-3 and scored five runs. He also stole two bases in leading the East team to a victory over the West.

It was the start of many wonderful memories, as Buheller went on to become one of the greatest players in Tech history during a career that spanned from 1983-1986.

Though he only stands 5-foot-7, Buheller certainly doesn’t lack physical skills – or at least didn’t back then. The left-handed hitting outfielder’s name is splashed all over the Tech record books, and many of those Tech records stand today. His 32-game hitting streak in 1985 still ranks as the program’s best, and he also holds the career record for stolen bases (140), walks (170) and runs (267). In addition, he holds single-season marks for stolen bases (40 in 1985) and at bats (254 in 1985) and is tied for first in hits (92 in 1985) and runs (82 in 1985).

“I was always confident. I always had the ‘short-man’s disease,’ kind of,” Buheller laughed. “I thought I could do anything that anyone else did. I could dunk a tennis ball when I played basketball at Varina. I remember leading the team in rebounds one game, and I said, ‘I told you guys that I could out-rebound you.’ I always wanted to prove myself.

“I didn’t doubt my talent. I did wonder when I signed with them, when they had (Franklin) Stubbs and all those guys, what my competition was going to be. But they were losing outfielders, so it was a good transition for me. I platooned a couple of games early and started hitting well, and Coach kept me in there for lefties, too. I became the MVP as a freshman.”

Buheller won team MVP honors twice in his career during a time period in which Tech baseball may have been at its all-time best. In 1985, the Hokies, who also featured slugger George Canale, won a program-best 50 games.

Buheller won team MVP honors during his junior year when he recorded the 32-game hitting streak. His streak ended after a dislocated pinkie finger suffered during a headfirst slide forced him to change his grip on the bat. He went 0-for-4 in a game against George Mason, though he still hit two line drives that were plucked by infielders.

“I’d say my hitting streak was probably my greatest memory, but I really had so many great memories,” Buheller said. “You can’t pinpoint one. I love Tech. I’m the biggest Hokie there is around Richmond.”

Following his career, Buheller attempted to make a go of it in professional baseball. The Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 19th round, and he spent four seasons in Boston’s minor league system, with stops in Elmira, N.Y., Lynchburg, Va., and Winter Haven, Fla.

While playing minor league baseball, Buheller became good friends with Curt Schilling, who went on to become a six-time All-Star and a part of three World Series-winning teams. The two of them roomed together, and even today, remain friends, though mostly through Facebook. Buheller also played tennis with Wade Boggs (a 12-time All-Star third baseman, mostly with the Red Sox) and Roger Clemens (a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, mostly with the Red Sox) during spring training, and he got a hit off of Ramon Martinez (former Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star pitcher) in a spring training game.

But in 1990, Buheller’s baseball career came to an end, as the Red Sox released him.

“You kind of know,” Buheller said. “I was a great defensive outfielder with a great arm, but if you don’t hit .270, .280, .290 in the minors – I was hitting .220, .230, .240 every year – they’re not going to keep you around, especially when you’re 28, 29 years old.

“It’s tougher 10 years down the road when you think about what you could have changed, thinking if you would have worked a little harder here, a little harder there, that sort of thing. But when you’re playing, you don’t think about that. I met Ted Williams (a 19-time All-Star with the Red Sox) and didn’t even ask for his autograph. Same with Carl Yastrzemski (an 18-time All-Star with the Red Sox). You see all the kids asking for autographs, but as a player, you feel embarrassed to ask.”

After being released, he returned to Tech and finished the last 20 or so hours left toward his degree in sports management. An internship in the athletics communications office under current assistant AD Dave Smith marked Buheller’s last task before getting that degree.

After that, he managed a health club in the Richmond area called American Family Fitness for nearly eight years. He worked in medical sales for five years, but in 2006, he decided to take a totally different route and work with a good friend at New Millennium Auto Sales in Glen Allen, Va., selling vehicles. He’s been doing that ever since.

“We were on the golf course one day, and I told him, ‘Man, I’m getting tired of this traveling,’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ve got an internet manager’s job open and you’d be good at it. You know everyone in Richmond,’” Buheller said. “So I took him up on it, and I didn’t have to travel any more. Travel was beating me down. I traveled all around Virginia and West Virginia.

“I like working with people, and that’s what this (his current job) is. I enjoy it. You meet someone new every day, and you get a call from someone new every day. You’ve just got to find that common ground with them, that rapport, and go from there.”

Buheller and his now ex-wife have two kids, and they take up most of his free time these days. His 16-year-old son, Davis, plays ice hockey and lacrosse, and his 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, is a dancer. But he still manages to make it to a couple of football games each season.

“I love going back to Tech,” he admitted. “I still get goose bumps. My kids always laugh at me and ask, ‘Dad, do you have goose bumps now?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, they’re on me.’ Happens every time I drive back.”

He feels so strongly about his school that he calls himself “Hokie Tim.” He even answers his phone that way. He may very well be the biggest Tech fan around, and after talking with him, you’ll learn quickly – he’s not apologizing for it.