New manager Nevin eager to prove he’s worth the riskWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
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It’s funny how history repeats itself.
Nineteen years ago Phil Nevin was a rising prospect in baseball after the Houston Astros selected him as the first overall pick in the MLB Draft.
This season, Nevin is once again considered a rising prospect by some in baseball.
That’s because the now 40-year-old will manage the Toledo Mud Hens after beginning his managerial career in baseball just three seasons ago.
“When I started managing, I never thought I would be where I am [with Toledo] now,” Nevin said. “I guess I am just in the right place at the right time.”
After retiring in 2006 — having played 12 years in the major leagues with seven different teams, including the Tigers — Nevin was a bit lost on what to do with his newfound free time.
“I was without baseball every day in my life for the first time in awhile,” he said.
After trying his hand at a broadcasting career, Nevin still felt like there was a piece missing.
“I missed the coming to the ballpark every day and putting on a uniform,” he said. “I missed the camaraderie you get being with 24 guys in the locker room every day. I felt like there was a hole in my life.”
Nevin’s journey as a manager began in December 2008, after he agreed to take over the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League.
“Getting the job happened by accident really,” he said. “I was actually going to do it as a favor to a friend. But once I got out there and started working, I realized that this was what I was missing.”
The biggest challenge for the Fullerton, Calif., native was learning how to manage. He admitted that while some things translate, playing the game and managing it are sometimes two different things.
“When you’ve been in the game you know there are always adjustments that need to be made, and managing is no different,” Nevin said. “I just come to the park with the mindset of just learning the game. If I learn something new every day, I think I will be successful at [managing].”
The Detroit Tigers took notice of Nevin, and the organization took a chance on a former player to manage its Double-A club, the Erie SeaWolves.
“Our former director of player development, Glenn Ezell, hired Phil on,” said Dan Lunetta, director of minor league operations for the Tigers. “We knew what he was about, and everyone here was pretty confident in Phil’s abilities.”
Nevin guided the SeaWolves to a 66-76 record in 2010. When assessing his performance with Erie, Nevin was frank.
“We fought through a lot of adversity last season,” he said. “We dealt with injuries, and we only won three games in the entire month of June. I thought we played well at times and not so much at others. I am not going to make any excuses. We wanted to be in first place at the end of the season, and we weren’t.”
When the Mud Hens job came open after longtime manager Larry Parrish became the hitting coach with the Atlanta Braves, Nevin threw his hat in the ring, despite having only two years of managerial experience under his belt.
“I was very interested when the position opened up,” Nevin said. “The Hens are an organization steeped in tradition, and it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.”
After going through a rigorous interview process, Nevin was offered the job.
“It was definitely a great feeling to get the job,” he said.
Lunetta said the Tigers have always looked at internal candidates first when trying to fill a vacancy and Nevin was one on the top of their list.
“The organization always looks at the people we already have on staff and whether any are qualified to do the job,” Nevin said. “The front office had several discussions about the opening in Toledo and we kept coming back to Phil. We had confidence in him and that a promotion was warranted in this case.”
Despite Lunetta’s confidence — and his own — in his managing abilities, Lunetta said he can see why hiring him could be seen as a risk.
“I understand why people see this as a risky hire,” he said. “But I just have to go out and do my very best.”
Nevin is also tasked with replacing legendary Larry Parrish, who managed the Mud Hens for seven seasons and became a constant in the organization during those years. Nevin is also balancing working with coaches A.J. Sager and Leon “Bull” Durham.
The Mud Hens’ new skipper said that while many might have some reservations, the transition has gone extremely well.
“I am fortunate to be working with a great staff in Toledo,” Nevin said. “Bull, A.J., and Matt [Rankin] have all been great to work with so far. We are all alike in a lot of ways.”
He said Parrish has provided him guidance as well.
“LP and I have talked quite a few times since he took the job in Atlanta,” Nevin said. “He has given me some advice, and he has been a great friend to me.”
Lunetta said those used to Parrish’s style of managing will notice a difference between the new guard and the old.
“We used to love to say [Parrish] was a good old country boy. Phil’s not like that. He’s not as laid-back. He’s more intense than Larry was,” Lunetta said. “One thing that won’t change is that they both have a strong desire to help players get better and succeed.”
When talking about the on-field prospects for this season, Nevin said it is difficult to predict exactly how a team will look come game time.
“There is just so much that can happen during the course of a season,” he said. “I will say that we will have some pretty talented guys with us in Toledo, and I love the talent that is in the Tigers organization.”
Whatever transpires this season, Nevin couldn’t be happier with where he is at in his career.
“I think it is great that I got to this level so fast,” he said. “I am excited to work for a great organization with the Tigers, and I can’t wait till I set foot in Fifth Third Field for that Opening Day doubleheader. It is going to be really special for me.”