Inside Phil Nevin’s origin story: How the Indy Ball mission helped shape the Angels’ interim manager

It was late in the 2009 season, and the Orange County Flyers were struggling. Independent Major League baseball was led by Phil Nevin, who was only two years out of retirement as a player.

Indie baseball teams are often a collection of all kinds of people from the sport. Young players. The men from the upper levels of the palace cut off in hopes of getting another shot. Former top league players who can’t say goodbye to the game.

Scott Spezio, the former World Angels champion, would probably fit in a mix of the latter two when he joined the Flyers in mid-2009. He was just two years younger than Nevin, and often served as a friend and soundboard for his first-time manager. While the team was in the midst of slipping, Spezio called up a game in Victoria, British Columbia.

Before he started, Spezio said Nevin told him that if the team lost again, he would “blew out his top”. He made an offer. It was all a plan. There was an inner calm. But from the outside, he would have declared that he was unhappy with his team in a very clear way.

Spezio said Nevin asked him to make sure he gave an honest review.

“We ended up losing, we went to the club and he loves smashing things and throwing things,” Spiezio recalls. “Shouting and screaming. He picks up a beer and breaks it. Everyone just kind of sits there.

Then we went back to the hotel, and he said, ‘What do you think of that?’ Very well?'”

“Scott isn’t supposed to tell those stories,” said Nivin, chuckling.

Nevin was appointed interim manager of the Angels last week in place of Joe Madon, who launched 12 games in the team’s 14-game losing streak. It’s his previous No. 1 first choice overall experience as an MLB manager.


Phil Nevin (Alex Gallardo/The Associated Press)

Nevin’s stint as independent league manager at Fullerton may have been only five miles away, but it was the start of 13 years of work that separates him from the heyday of the career – years of managing as minors, coaching in major leagues and hoping for a chance like the one he had last week .

Nevin was loved by the players of the Flyers. He was the type of manager who, yes, might lose his temper. But these kinds of shows served the same purpose as anything else – keeping a united team that knows its manager supports the club.

“I don’t think I’ve enjoyed playing baseball since maybe minor league or high school any more than I’ve enjoyed playing with it,” said Travis Bechtel, a defensive player on this team. “He knew the right way to turn things around or smooth things out.”

Nevin played his last game in MLB in 2006 and officially announced his retirement in May 2007. He did some television work, but was talked about to take over as Flyers manager in December 2008 by team owner Alan Mintz after initially hesitating.

Up until that point in his post-playing career, Nevin said the most important plan he made in his life was to play golf with his friends. His wife and children constantly told him that he needed to find something to do. The solution was the Orange County Publications Department.

Nevin wanted his team to have all the semblance of a major league experience, even though this league was light years away from that. Establish a dress code for road trips. He also personally funded aspects of the team that simply weren’t in the budget for a small league like this. There were some long bus rides in the Golden League Baseball. As a result, Nevin would sometimes buy a plane ticket for the starting bowler the next day to allow them to have more rest.

Bring a masseuse. Bought additional equipment. He once surprised the entire team with a one-night stand in Las Vegas as the club was on its way to play a game in St. George, Utah.

There was a constant reminder that these were not the major leagues. Nevin had to lean on the field was as stark reminder as anyone else. But he made a lot of money as a top draft pick and MLB expert for 12 years, and he wanted to feel as close to The Show as possible. He has gone from being unsure of his desire to coach to financially funding the enjoyment of every player.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Nevin said. “I told them right from the start, when I joined the team, ‘I’m going to treat you like great players as long as you guys act like this. Understand that I am also trying to help you achieve a goal.”

Fernando Pacheco, a former Flyers player, remembers being once in the middle of a bad slump when Nevin took him to the side. Pacheco was one of the team’s top hitters, scoring 17 players in 83 games the previous year. The Flyers were playing a game in Chico, California, and they showed up to the field early to get some business long before the game. Pacheco did some work with the hitting drill with the nivine loose balls on the side. After that, Neven decided that Pacheco needed an impassioned talk. remind.

“He got a little bit in my head and gave a good speech about how to recover. It was a coincidence. He was trying to figure it out and unpack it,” Pacheco said. He was trying to put himself in my shoes.

“We just had heart to heart. Honestly, it was more mental, and that was what I needed. Because baseball is hard. When you’re down, you feel really bad. It’s a low feeling. And you don’t know how to get out of it sometimes. You just need to.” Coaches and your manager to tell you that they believe in you.”

For a man, this is how players view Nevin. A player like Spiezio – in the early stages of trying to be sanity amid addiction issues – got a chance from Nevin. He earned respect from Nevin. It was significant because Spiezio tried to come out of a dark period in his life.

Nevin has brought in other key players such as Damian Jackson and Robert Vick to play for the team. He had Jim Edmonds work with outside players and be around the group once in a while.

Most importantly, he communicated with the players about their roles, skills, and struggles. Mike Koons, a former Flyers player, said he would “go to battle for his comrades, 10 times out of 10”. He had a way of making every player on the list feel visible and respected.

“I’m sure Mike Trout and (Shuhei) Otani would love to play with this guy now,” Koons said. “Because I know I did. And I was nobody.”

Nevin surely no longer trains anyone. He may still be in Orange County, but it’s a whole different world from running the Flyers. The roots of his work with Angels go back to Team Flyers. It definitely has evolved a bit. But the way he worked there will tell what he’s doing now.

Jimmy Rohan, the second former Flyers businessman, started a large group message on Facebook after Nevin’s appointment. At first, he thought of texting only two men with whom he remained friends. Then he pulled out the old list, looking for everyone he could find from that team.

Nevin’s appointment afforded the group an opportunity to be reunited. Rohan thought it would be fun to collect as many combos as possible to cheer Nevin from Angle Stadium. You might even stop by to say hello.

Because after all these years they remember him as a manager who cared about them. He may have shown this with his pre-planned post-match tantrums when a medicine ball smashes a glass mirror. It also showed in his ability to have an empathetic conversation with a waning hitter.

The team finished 37-39. It wasn’t short story season in the field. But it was unforgettable. For Nevin, to coach pro baseball for the first time. And for the players, it feels like they’ve had one of the most enjoyable seasons of their careers.

“We had camaraderie. Rohan said. “Our record doesn’t show that, but we played really well together. And a lot of that was because of Phil.”

(top photo: Orange County Publications)

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