Last January, the Yankees acquired minor league third baseman James Nelson in a trade for reliever Stephen Tarpley. Nelson recently took the time to speak with Pinstripe Alley on a variety of topics that will be published in two parts. Here is part one.
Dan Kelly - How did you first get into baseball? What are some of your earliest baseball memories, and what drew you to the sport?
James Nelson - My uncle (2013 Yankee Chris Nelson) played for the Rockies, he got drafted in ’04 by the Rockies, so I’ve been growing up in the dugouts when he was playing for the East Cobb Astros. I was in the dugout, man I don’t even know. I’ve been to a Yankees game when he was playing the Yankees while he was with Colorado... Since I was young I’ve always been around baseball, I started when I was four years old. I’ve always been around the sport, my whole family loves baseball...
DK – You grew up in the Atlanta area, but with your uncle playing for Colorado, were you a Braves fan or did you cheer for your uncle as he went along?
JN – So, I actually grew up a Yankees fan. My father is from New Jersey and I grew up a Yankees fan... everybody loves the Yankees... It’s just like everybody in my family, we love the Yankees, but we also love the Rockies because my uncle was there. They were my team, because I was a Derek Jeter fan, I loved Derek Jeter growing up. Like the guy I looked up to as far as to how passionate the game is played.
DK – You were drafted the first time as a shortstop. That position is generally know for great athleticism. Were you playing other sports coming up? When did you focus on baseball?
JN – Honestly I played basketball for maybe two years and then I was like “I’m playing baseball.” I grew up playing travel ball all the time, so I didn’t really have the time for any other sports to be honest.
DK – The general area you are from has produced a lot of baseball talent. Your uncle Chris was a top-10 overall pick, and then a few years ahead of you, both Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows were taken near the top of the draft from that general part of Georgia. Are those guys that you crossed paths with, playing with or against at any point?
JN – No, I never crossed paths with either of those guys, The guys I came up with are Jahmai Jones (the Angels’ No. 7 prospect per MLB.com), and Taylor Trammell (the Mariners’ No. 5 prospect per MLB.com), that kind of class is where I came up... I played with and against these guys growing up.
DK – You were drafted by the Red Sox coming out of high school. What went into your decision to forgo professional ball at that point and head to junior college?
JN – Part of it was just me. I was 17 at the time and I don’t think I was ready. Even though I was coming out young, I could still get my feet wet, but I don’t think I had seen what I needed to see. So, I think that one year of JUCO did me well. JUCO pitching and JUCO players, you get some of the pro feel, because that is where some of the guys go to get better. They go for one year and then get drafted.
DK – You had a pretty big power spike when you went junior college? What were you working on there that helped you develop that part of your game?
JN – I have to give it up to the coaches when I went to Cisco College (TX). They helped me out a lot while I was there, really staying on me. So Cisco is this small town, there are dirt roads for miles. The only thing to do there was to go to school and play baseball. I’d wake up early, go hit, go to class, come to practice, that’s all you could do. It was a good environment to be in, especially with the guys who were there.
DK – Is there any one coach who stood out to you while you were there?
JN – All the coaches were very helpful. The one guy who recruited me was John Coyne, who is at the University of New Mexico now. He was the recruiting coordinator at Cisco when I was there and he helped me out.
DK – You were drafted by the Marlins the next year. What would you say was the biggest adjustment to pro ball?
JN – Everybody is good! My mindset had to change a little bit. In JUCO you have the good players the great players but everybody is good at the pro level. No matter where you came from, your background, anything if you got drafted you are good. I think the biggest adjustment for me was one, keeping my work ethic and two Locking in every time, because they are good.
DK – Then you get traded. I think as a fan and writer we wonder what it is like to get that phone call and be told that you are traded?
JN – When I got traded, it was an out-of-the-blue kind of deal. I was doing my own thing, and then all of a sudden I get the call. The guy in the front office was saying, “Hey James, we just traded you to the Yankees” I was like, “Oh, wow.” It was just unexpected. It caught me by surprise, but then at the same time growing up a Yankees fan, I was like, “I’m really going to get to put on the pinstripes.”
DK – Growing up a Yankees fan, it must have been some mix emotions on that?
JN – Yeah, because I’ve been with the Marlins for four years, but it is exciting to play for the team you cheered for growing up.
We’ll have more of this interview with James Nelson tomorrow. Please check back as he discusses his first experiences with the Yankees, staying ready through the minor league shutdown and his positive messaging for young players.