Ducks Watch: Bryant Nelson plays on for his son
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There aren't many firsts left in Bryant Nelson's playing career. The 39-year-old, 20-year veteran has seen everything baseball has to offer, from his time playing in Japan, Taiwan, Italy, Venezuela and Mexico to his long career in the minors, his brief stint in the MLB and the eight years he's spent in the Atlantic League. But Wednesday marked the first time in Nelson's four seasons with the Ducks that he represented the team at the Atlantic League All-Star game having gone twice before with Lancaster and Bridgeport. Though he said the experience was dampened by a two-hour rain delay, Nelson was proud to represent the Ducks, especially with his nine-year old son present. We asked Nelson about playing overseas and with the Ducks, and what drives him to keep playing after 20 years in the game.
Tell me about being able to represent the Ducks at the All-Star game.
"It was an awesome experience, Kevin Baez was our manager and we had five of our guys down there so it was a fun time . . . The Ducks have always given me a chance so it's special."
Your MLB experience consists of just 34 at-bats in two months with the Red Sox in 2002, what did you take from that?
"That was awesome. I lived with Rickey Henderson, and I had some great teammates like Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez. But truly, and I'm not an arrogant dude, but I thought I belonged there. There was no doubt in my mind and that was my dream. It was just a matter of getting an opportunity to play, which I never did. I sat on the bench for weeks. I had a six-game hitting streak of all pinch hits or getting one at-bat in the game. That's where I knew I belonged and I was enjoying every moment, but it didn't work out the way I wanted it."
What's it like playing in the Italian League or in winter ball in Venezuela?
"I love the culture in Italy, I learned a lot. It was kind of like a paid vacation almost because you only play three games a week so you can't really get into a rhythm and I was used to playing every day . . . And winter ball is intense. My teams were full of major leaguers so the competition was great. The whole experience was awesome. I played in Japan, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, everywhere."
In Japan you played under Sadaharu Oh, the great Japanese manager and player who hit 868 career home runs and later managed the winning Japanese team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. What was that like?
"He's the biggest home run hitter ever. He taught me. I was working on my lower half hitting-wise, he pulled me to the side and showed me this drill to do every night. In Japan it's serious. It's about winning, everything is so serious. We had to go on top of the roof at night and shadow swing. What I learned there was invaluable to what I can teach my son. I have the Japanese insight, the Dominican influence, Pedro showed me some things in Boston. I just take pieces from everywhere I go and form who I am."
You've been at this for so long, what keeps you in the game today? Still want to get back to the majors?
"At this point in my career I'm playing to show my son, Prince, how to play the game. He's nine years old, so whatever uniform I put on I'm going to go out and play my best. It's about my son seeing the game played the right way. I want him to see me play and model himself after how I play. I spent my whole life chasing the major league game so I don't think about it anymore. My career average is over .280 and I play six positions and switch hit, so at this point I don't think about it like that anymore. I just want my son to see me play and learn the culture of baseball in the right way . . . If he sees me play and can be proud of me, that's more important than any other thing like making the majors."