When Tim Lincecum took the mound earlier this month hoping to bring his career back to life, it had been a year-and-a-half since his final game in 2016. It was a cold, gray Thursday afternoon in Kent, Washington, at a warehouse just south of Seattle, and there were questions whether he would once again perform like the man nicknamed The Freak—the 5'11" flamethrower with long brown hair, who for a long time had a face that didn't need a razor, who racked up two consecutive Cy Young Awards and three World Series rings. A year-and-a-half ago, his fastball had slowed to the mid-80s—hardly the 99 mph that he threw as a rookie—and now Tim wanted to see whether he could be, if not his old self, at least something close to it.
The entire affair was held away from the public eye. This was, apparently, per Tim's wishes. Just some 20 scouts. Tim. Agents. A few clients and employees of the facility. And Chris, Tim's father. Tim dressed in athletic gear—sneakers, leggings, shorts, T-shirt and a hat—and looked strong. His fastball topped out at 93, impressing several scouts. In the coming weeks, Tim would consider multiple offers. On Tuesday, he signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers.
Afterward, Tim left in a gray Shelby Ford Raptor, heading north, the direction of Madison Park, a village near Lake Washington. A few years ago, Tim sold his $2 million penthouse on the top floor of Escala, the glitzy downtown skyscraper, and bought a place near the lake. Madison Park feels like its own little town, bordered by the lake and shrouded by the hills and their towering firs and pines and contorta trees.
It's where Tim Lincecum has been hiding from the world.
Down by the lake, on E. Madison Street, near a bathhouse and stretch of grass that becomes a small beach, there's a bar called The Attic. It's situated farther back from the sidewalk than the other buildings on the block. A small evergreen tree stands out front; a rustic red fence ensconces a private outdoor patio.
Inside, the bar is big and feels like a sports pub. A University of Washington banner hangs from the ceiling; a screen located behind the bar displays all the beers on tap. Dark brown leather seats line the walls; the smell of fries and beer wafts through the air.
Tim is a regular here. "He comes in all the time," said Colleen, a bartender with a big smile and light brown hair. "Nice guy. Down-to-earth." The former ace is a good tipper, she went on, and he has a warm demeanor. Tim often stops by with friends and talks baseball with the local patrons. Last fall, he watched the World Series on one of the half-dozen or so TVs that are mounted on the walls. "[Tim's] just laid-back as can be," Elliott Cribby, a friend since high school and teammate from the University of Washington, told me. "He can take a room full of people and make it really, really happy."
The people at The Attic are friendly, but cautious when outsiders try to ask about the star pitcher next door. "We're pretty protective of Tim," Colleen said. "If he was in here, you'd probably never even know it."
That kind of atmosphere couldn't be further from what used to happen to Tim at Seattle bars. One night, not long after the Giants won the World Series in 2010, a frat guy recognized Tim, who was in town hanging with a friend, and within the hour, the bar was packed with people asking for autographs and taking selfies. When Tim went for pizza, the people followed him there and climbed light poles to catch a glimpse.
People love Tim because he wasn't just dominant—he was a joy to watch. He always seemed happy and confident. His pitching motion was unorthodox and violent, and a delight to behold: his leg kicked high toward the sky, arm at full extension, his torso uncoiling with such torque he often had to fix his belt buckle. And he didn't stride from the rubber like most pitchers—he launched off it, leaping toward home.
Cribby said he always knew Tim was going to be big—and used to tell him as much. The thought seemed to make Tim uncomfortable. "He just wants to live life, like a normal human being," Cribby said. One time, during their senior year of high school, Cribby told Tim:
"You're gonna have a huge future." Tim shook his head. "Naw—then that just means ya'll are gonna be big, too," he said, dismissing the thought. "I'm just like you guys."
Cribby told me that Tim frequently went out of his way to prove that he and his friends were "all in the same realm."
"Yeah," Tim would admit to me later. "That's just how I've always been."
In Madison Park, many of the locals are adamant that Tim is one of them. Colleen waved at an older man at the other end of the bar with extraordinarily curly, gray hair, a thick beard and a scarf.
"Like, this joker's a regular, too, and it'd be weird for people like you to come around here asking about him," she said. The guy raised his bottle of beer. "Same for Tim. In here, he's just another regular," Colleen said. "Because that's all he wants to be."
The world learned of Tim's comeback in December, when Rockies pitcher Adam Ottavino posted a picture of Tim playing catch at Driveline Baseball. Tim's dark brown hair was cut short, he had some scruff on his chin, and he was wearing a green Nike T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, revealing a startlingly defined physique.
He had been training with Kyle Boddy, who founded the facility in 2012. Boddy's techniques are cutting edge; his individual training regimens draw on everything from his kinesiology research to cameras and motion trackers to simple weighted balls and other workout tools—plus, of course, good old-fashioned strength and conditioning.
Boddy, who is in his mid-30s and has two children, is a beefy man with dark hair. He describes himself as a former card-counter with an affinity for hacking. At Driveline, he works with everyone from major leaguers to college players and kids. His client list includes marquee talent, such as Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, who recently threw a ball 116.9 mph.
When I heard that Tim was training there, I reached out to Boddy hoping to catch a glimpse of Tim in action—or at least just see the facility itself. He refused. "All media requests regarding Tim are denied," he wrote in an email. "Tim's agent has made it exceptionally clear, and we'll faithfully carry out the orders." After a few emails back and forth, Boddy then put me in touch with Mike Rathwell, the Driveline CEO. He also notified a lawyer.
In some ways, Driveline is built like a fortress. It is located in a warehouse industrial park and looks like a sprawling workshop. A smaller corporate office is tucked behind a few warehouses rented by various companies, while the larger research lab and training center are nestled into the middle of the lot. A skinny kid works the desk in the training center's lobby and functions as much like a guard as a receptionist.
Driveline is but an extension of the people in Tim's life who have helped him keep the outside world away. Tim's father Chris—who is himself something of a recluse—is another one of Tim's human shields. Chris used to do interviews happily, but now he, too, isn't one to be bothered by journalists. "I quit doing media a long time ago," he told me over the phone. "It's hard to know who to trust."
It took me three calls before Chris finally picked up the phone. When he did, we only talked for a few minutes. Tim was surprised that I got his dad on the phone at all: "He actually picked up?" he said, shocked.
Even as he deflected, Chris seemed to hint at his son's rising stock among major league teams. "I wanna let all this s--t settle," he said. "All this dust flying around. With all these scouts—it's just been crazy this week, and now he's lookin' like he's gonna sign with someone, so that'll kick other dust all up. Call me on Tuesday or something. And if I don't pick up, just leave a damn voicemail."
So why would Tim want to come back to the national spotlight, away from the protection of the people of Madison Park? Cribby thinks that it is Tim's intense drive. "This has nothing to do with the money," he told me. "It has everything to do with a personal vendetta against everybody who kinda wrote him off." Cribby told me that the chip on Tim's shoulder has been around since he was in Little League. "'You're just too small, Tim.' And now, 'You're not gonna hold up, Tim.' That drives him," Cribby continued. "That fuels his fire. This is all about him wanting to compete."
I thought about this during my three days of getting shot down and ignored by most people I could find who knew Tim. My last night in town, I pulled up at a Tex-Mex restaurant down the block from The Attic. While sitting at the bar eating a quesadilla, I unexpectedly spotted Tim at a table in the middle of the restaurant with two friends. He was wearing shorts, leggings, a navy Team USA jacket and backward black snapback cap, with some hair poking through the gap.
I considered paying their bill or buying them a pitcher of margaritas—possibly earning a few minutes of facetime—before deciding I didn't want to interrupt. When they finished eating, the thought of people wondering about Tim's whereabouts compelled me to follow them outside. I found Tim squatting on a bench like a catcher, scrolling through his phone, waiting for his friend to get the car.
When I introduced myself, Tim became noticeably tense—his shoulders clenched up under his jacket—but he surprisingly chatted with me for a couple of minutes. He was an attentive listener. When I made a joke, he laughed. He said he didn't remember his agent passing along my interview request.
A voice called Tim's name from the street. A blue sedan pulled up. As we parted ways, I asked Tim about his comeback and mentioned the theories his father and Cribby offered—that money didn't matter, that Tim just wanted to compete again, to prove himself again. Tim said that's all true. This is about seeing what he can still do. "That's the only reason I'm doing this," he said. He grinned. "Not for guys like you."
Brandon Sneed is a writer-at-large for B/R Mag and the author of Head In The Game: The Mental Engineering of the World's Elite Athletes. His writing has previously appeared in Outside, ESPN The Magazine and more, and has received mention in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter: @brandonsneed.