Modesto Nuts stay hot for new skipper Nelson

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJuly 16, 2013 

Fred Nelson (2), Modesto Nuts manager

VANDERBEEK

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
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    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

— The first time Fred Nelson met with the Modesto Nuts players in his new role as manager, he made one thing very clear.

The performance of the players had nothing to do with the firing of Lenn Sakata.

"The players listened attentively while I talked, but I don't have the answers, I just have the big picture view of what went on," said Nelson. "You move on. It would be counter-productive of me to discuss details, and we all respected what Lenny did."

Nelson, 66, added the managerial role to his position as development supervisor upon Sakata's firing Saturday night. On Wednesday, the 56th manager in Modesto minor-league history was at the Nuts' helm for his first time in a home game.

Nelson brings to the position a baseball resume as long and varied as any previous Modesto manager.

He was a first-team All-American second baseman on the 1967 Arizona State University team that won the College World Series, and was taken in the 18th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Nelson played professionally for three seasons, topping out at the Double-A level, then became a college coach. He managed three seasons with the Niagara Falls Sox, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, then became the White Sox assistant director of player development.

He moved to the Houston organization and spent 27 years in various positions, including scout and scouting director, assistant to the general manager and director of minor-league operations.

Nelson joined the Rockies' organization this year, in the still-evolving development supervisor position.

"I didn't come here to manage, but it is what it is," Nelson said. "(Pitching coach) Dave Burba and (hitting coach) Jon Stone are outstanding baseball guys.

"Our goal continues to press forward with the philosophies that (executive vice president) Dan (O'Dowd) and (director of player development) Jeff Bridich have established. My role is to help organize things, then step out of the way and let the players play."

Upon arriving in Modesto, Nelson said part of his job was to listen to the players, but that there were some questions only the manager could answer.

"That's obviously changed," Nelson said. "I told the players today that I'm here to help them, and that part hasn't changed. My door is always open.

"I told them, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that if they come in asking questions they'd better be prepared to hear the answers. It's not going to be eye-wash if any of these guys comes in and wants to know where they stand in their career."

As fate would have it, Nelson's first games as Modesto manager were in Bakersfield — at the same ballpark where he began his professional career in 1968.

"Either I was so scared or naive when I played in Bakersfield or I just don't remember the ballpark," Nelson said.

"I tried to look around at the ballpark. I think I recognized some of the cypress trees. I remember the fences being shorter and the dugouts weren't so far down the line. The home clubhouse was on the third-base side. So the reality of it was that it wasn't a big rush to be there."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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