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When Josh Beckett was placed on the disabled list with a bad back, the Red Sox called up 35-year-old journeyman reliever Joe Nelson. Drafted in 1996, Nelson didn’t make it to the big leagues with Atlanta until 2001. He didn’t really catch on in the majors until 2006 with the Royals, before stops with the Marlins in ’08 and the Rays last season.
So, who really is Joe Nelson? After a few quick Google searches and a look at his Wikipedia page, I’ve learned that Nelson is anything but your average journeyman reliever. Allow me to give you a look at the man, the myth…Joe Nelson.
Like most professional athletes, Nelson was a star in high school, playing both baseball and basketball. Playing at St. Joseph’s Notre Dame High School in Alameda, Calif., Nelson teamed with future NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, as both were in the Class of ’94.
Nelson told WEEI in March that he learned how to deal with media pressure from Kidd, who dealt with it as a superstar high school athlete.
“The way he handled the media, press, pressure. Jason was the Gatorade player of the year. We played in front of 25,000 at the Oakland Coliseum when the Lakers weren’t drawing 25,000. The way he carried himself was a very good teaching tool for me as far as involvement with pro ball, how to deal with the media,” Nelson explained. “Jason was very accountable at a young age. When we lost, it was his fault. When we won, it was a team effort. That’s an admirable quality.”
While we’re here…how good was Kidd in high school?
“He could have been a centerfielder in the big leagues or a running back in the NFL. Instead he chose to be a Hall of Fame basketball player. He was unbelievable. He was, without question, the best athlete I’ve ever been around. He was special,” said Nelson. “I watched him hit a ball about 500 feet and break an aluminum bat. The bat shattered in two, the ball went 500 feet. He was strong.”
You may not remember, but Joe Nelson was a member of the 2004 Red Sox team that won it all and reversed the curse. He played just three games, allowing five runs in 2.2 innings and was later demoted to make room for the returning Mark Malaska. All that effort probably meant that Nelson earned a World Series ring for his efforts…because the team practically gave everyone a ring that year, probably including Mariano Rivera.
A Trekkie, Nelson of course would bring Spock’s “Live Long and Prosper” symbol to baseball in tossing his patented “Vulcan” change-up, featuring a grip with two fingers on each side of the baseball. His “Vulcan” pitch became famous during his stay with the Rays in 2009 (pictured above). In ’09, Nelson was 3-0 in 40 appearances with a 4.02 ERA.
Boston.com has a photo gallery featuring the entrance music for some of our favorite Red Sox players. David Ortiz has a rotation of music by 50 Cent and Tupac (among others), Jason Varitek has his signature “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down, and J.D. Drew has no entrance music at all (is that really surprising)?
The final member listed in the slideshow is Nelson. Now, maybe I haven’t seen Nelson pitch in Fenway recently, but apparently his song of choice is “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus. I’m not even sure that would by my sister’s theme song. I mean, why not a little country music? Or maybe some rock music? I’d even take Sting. But Miley Cyrus? At his age (35)?
Nelson may only be around until Josh Beckett returns, but for now, try to appreciate our Miley Cyrus-loving Trekkie. He pitched in his 2010 debut on Friday night. Nothing special though: he tossed two innings in a loss to the Phillies, allowing one run. If his strange personality is any indication, he may surprise us and stick on with the big club for the rest of the season.