Chris Nelson’s got game. Or did I just say that?
The Colorado Rockies certainly knew it when they drafted the shortstop with the ninth overall pick out of Redan High School in Decatur, Ga., in 2004, impressed with his across-the-board tools that range from bat speed to raw power to base-running zip to soft hands and a strong arm, not to mention just his all-around athleticism.
And though a hamate bone injury this summer may have temporarily slowed his ascent to the Mile High City, costing him more than two months of the regular season at Double-A Tulsa, he more than made up for it with his showing in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .321 with 17 RBIs for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, helping lead the team to its fifth consecutive league title while seeing time at a new position, second base, to further add to his versatility. (In this picture, taken at the championship game, those are five Rockies “Dawgs,” L-R: Nelson, pitcher David Patton, catcher Michael McKenry, infielder/outfielder Eric Young Jr., and pitcher Shane Lindsay, in a shot taken by Erica Brooks).
But “Nellie” brought more than just his bat to the Desert Dogs.
He was also a key cog in a team whose clubhouse chemistry was so off the charts that several players on the squad, which united prospects from five different organizations, claimed that they had never played on a team that jelled better than the Dogs.
One of Nelson’s key contributions was known, simply, as “The Game.”
It’s hard to explain “The Game.” Do any of you remember the old song “Up In The Air, Junior Birdmen” where you’d make “finger goggles” and hold them upside-down on your face?
Well, in “The Game,” if someone on the Dogs caught the eye of a teammate while he was making finger goggles, the “victim” had to immediately lie down on the floor … or ground … or field … with his arms crossed over his chest for five seconds.
It didn’t matter where they were. Clubhouse, restaurant, Fashion Square Mall. And once you were in “The Game,” you were in for good.
And it didn’t have to be direct eye contact either. A few players “got” their guys by taking pictures of themselves making the finger goggles on their cel phone, for example, and sending them to teammates. Once said teammate opened the cel photo, he was on the ground. One even allegedly drew a stick figure of someone making finger goggles on the wipe-off memo board in the clubhouse, “getting” anyone who walked in. Not sure if that story is true or not, though.
I witnessed Nellie innocently walk by a few of his teammates having dinner at an outdoor patio restaurant one evening, and within moments you heard the crunch of iron chairs scraping across the flagstone floor and saw the three players lying on their backs.
I had been under the apparently mistaken impression, however, that once the players filed into the dugout for BP, The Game was off. For that reason, as I sat chatting with Nelson one evening, interviewing him for this very Q&A entry, I asked him about The Game, and made the mistake of doing the finger goggles.
Turns out, The Game only got suspended five minutes before “real” game time.
Nelson dropped to the sunflower-seed strewn floor of the dugout with his arms crossed on his chest, and all of a sudden I was in The Game. I protested but rules were rules.
Fortunately, we had already completed the interview by the time I was “gamed,” so I was able to get Nellie’s very concise answers to a variety of questions, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with baseball.
And while he may seem like a man of few words, he’s more succinct, to the point and, whether you can tell or not from this, pretty damned hilarious.
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Nelson: I can juggle.
GotMiLB: Like flaming batons?
Nelson: No, just three balls, nothing special.
GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …
Nelson: Can swim really well.
GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Nelson: Downloading music (legally), making beats. Me and EY (Young) like to make our own music sometimes.
GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Nelson: When I made a donation to my school, Redan High School, to get a batting cage built.
GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
GotMiLB: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Nelson: This is the only job I’ve ever had. My dad wouldn’t let me work, it was baseball all the way.
GotMiLB: What’s your “guilty pleasure” when it comes to TV?
GotMiLB: That’s not a guilty pleasure, that’s a good show!
Nelson: Okay then, watching Spongebob Squarepants with my little sister.
GotMiLB: What reality TV show would you totally kick butt on?
Nelson: Double Shot of Love with Tila Tequila. I’d probably win.
GotMiLB: Who was your childhood crush?
Nelson: Beyonce Knowles.
GotMiLB: Who would play you in a movie of your life?
Nelson: My cousin, Eric Esquilin. He’s 18.
GotMiLB: If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?
Nelson: Barack Obama so I could be head of state.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Nelson: I would probably be in college trying to get a business degree.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why? Nelson: Getting rest and getting food, getting good balanced meals.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Nelson: Just the cramped rides on the bus. The bus rides are awful.
GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
Nelson: That I’m in the Major Leagues. You tell them you play for the Rockies and they assume you’re in the Major Leagues.
GotMiLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
Nelson: I would raise minor league salaries.
GotMiLB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen?
Nelson: A dude doing the YMCA with like eight fake people on a pole.
GotMiLB: What has been your least favorite visiting act or promotion?
Nelson: Jimmy Buffett Night.