This is unfortunate because I'm supposed to hate Boston. I say supposed because I've never really signed on with hating anything - even soulless entities - over territorial rights. Boston doesn't help this matter by being smart, playing in one of the sacred baseball yards around, and providing some fantastic entertainment when they do play the Rays. I guess most of the distaste stems from their fan base. Some of their supporters' roots are faker than Ben Chapman's home run while others' run deeper than Jackie Robinson's bruises. Hatred of the other team's fans is natural though. Even some of the Rays' fan base finds me annoying as all hell, I can only imagine what people I don't share a common bond with think of me.
This is also unfortunate because I like Nelson. A difference maker he is not. His 2009 season left most in the area with a sour taste in their mouth, if not a souvenir off the bat of an opposing slugger. Things were good at first then quickly turned ugly. Even with a demotion, Nelson failed to locate the strike zone which inevitably lead to his demise as a member of the organization. There's maybe three bright spots about Nelson's tenure here. Those being:
1. The Vulcan Change-up
There's only so many pitches, so much degree of separation on velocity and movement, and so many deliveries to separate this middle reliever from that one. Best as I can tell, a small handful of pitchers throw the split-fingered change (Eric Gagne, Keith Foulke, and Nelson at last count, oddly each with Boston ties at one point or another) and for reasons similar to R.A. Dickey or R.J. Swindle, this makes them a bit more interesting to track. For a middle reliever's stuff to gain attention it either has to go fast (to the plate or to the stands), move a lot, or have a gimmick behind it. Nelson's had two and at times completed the trifecta.
2. The self-deprecating humor
Two excerpts from an outstanding interview with Jesse Spector:
6. Have you ever played as yourself on a video game?
JN: Yes! Didn't do well, either. I'm not good at video games, but I think it's MLB 2002 was the first time -- it was the one with Derek Jeter on the cover, and somebody called me and said, "Dude, you're in this game." I ran over to their place and I was like, "I wanna pitch with myself." First ball I threw, I threw for a strike. Then, when you're not very good -- A, I'm not very good, but B, they didn't make my character very good -- I got tired after like three pitches and started getting hit around the ballpark. I'm like, "This is a really realistic game!" But yeah, I did it once. Other people have called me and yelled at me, said, "Your guy is not very good in this game!" I know. Sometimes I trick 'em, sometimes I don't.
9. Complete this sentence: I am the only player in Major League Baseball...
JN: Who married their radiologist when they blew out their elbow. I think I'm the only one.
TB: How did that happen?
JN: I was in Triple-A, in Richmond, and my wife was in her last year of residency, doing a fellowship. And she did an arthrogram, told me she could show me on the arthrogram that I tore my UCL and we've got to get an MRI, so they did an MRI. I walked back with her to get the results and asked her why she wasn't married. She said because she doesn't date doctors, and I said, "Well, that's good. I'm not a doctor." So I asked her out that night, and now I've got three beautiful kids and a beautiful wife, and I'm probably the only one who actually married their radiologist.
TB: You went right after it.
JN: Well, I knew I was gonna be out a year, so I had a little time.
That's not quite Ichiro level stuff, but awesome nonetheless.
3. The career
Nelson was a fourth-round pick out of the University of San Francisco. He made his debut at the modest age of 26. Five years later Nelson would record his first ‘full' Major League season. Two years after that Nelson would ink his first (and almost certainly last) contract worth a million. I've raised this point before about toiling minor league relievers, but pitching baseballs for your next month's rent seems less than enjoyable. Nelson waited longer than A.C. Green to enter the public's consciousness. There's a non-zero chance he's never in the Majors again, and that's a bit disappointing.
So I'm not really supposed to root for Joe Nelson anymore. I hope Boston fans do it for me. Even if they can't do it as well.