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Nelson settling in as Fightins’ clubhouse manager
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning and Andrew Nelson just got news about a promotion by the Phillies.
As the clubhouse manager for the Reading Fightins, Nelson, a 2006 Warwick High School graduate, has only a few hours to prepare for the arrival of Maikel Franco, a third base prospect from Single-A Clearwater.
He needs to ready a locker in FirstEnergy Stadium’s cozy home clubhouse.
Then, the 25-year-old Nelson has to text a colleague in Clearwater to get Franco’s sizes for his uniform shirt, pants and hat.
The goal is to have everything in place by the time Franco ambles through the red clubhouse door in mid-afternoon to gear up for a game that night against the Portland Sea Dogs.
It’s just another day in the life of Nelson.
Over the course of a six-day homestand against the Sea Dogs and Richmond Flying Squirrels, Nelson will work roughly 120 hours at the Eastern League’s oldest home.
But he is young and having fun.
"You have to love what you do to be here," Nelson said. "I got here at 8:30 today and I’ll be happy if I leave around 12:30 tonight. But I can walk out at 7:30 and watch a baseball game for a couple minutes, or do my work and walk past a crowd full of people. You don’t look at it as a job. You’re just coming to a ball park every day and you don’t have to pay."
Three years ago, if someone had told him that he would be getting a uniform ready for a rehabbing Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, Nelson probably would not have believed it.
Looking for an internship to finish up his sports and recreation management degree at Temple University, a friend, Katie Perna, put him in touch with an acquaintance who had previously worked for the Reading Phils. Nelson sent an email to Fightins’ Assistant GM Ashley Peterson, one thing led to another and he spent the whole year in 2011 getting his feet wet inside FirstEnergy Stadium.
"I knew I wanted to work in baseball. I just didn’t really know, like, major league, minor league, what team – it didn’t really matter," said Nelson, who played for the Warwick ice hockey squad in 2006 that advanced to the Bears’ Cup finals in the Hersheypark Arena.
In 2011, the Fightins were undergoing a stadium renovation, and Nelson assisted Director of Graphic Arts Matt Jackson (a.k.a Crazy Hot Dog Vendor) with the signage that now adorns the stadium plaza. Around July, he helped out in concessions, overseeing three food stands in the concourse area. From time to time, Nelson even found himself dressed as a carrot or lettuce competing on the field in the popular between-innings Veggie Race.
At season’s end, although a full-time position wasn’t available with the club, Nelson was able to stay on board as a group intern in sales. But then a couple of months later, he got a break.
An opening as Reading’s clubhouse manager became available and Nelson was in the right spot at the right time.
"(The Phils) said, ‘You’ve done this, this and this. Do you want to give it a shot?,’" Nelson recalled. "And I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ So they sent me down to spring training, which was an amazing experience."
There, Nelson shadowed Lehigh Valley clubhouse guy Jason Ross, who taught him all the ropes.
"(After that), I came back up here and it was just game on," Nelson smiled.
Looking back on the 2012 season, Nelson acknowledges that he was still learning on the fly. As the one responsible for ordering and purchasing pre-game (hoagies, fruit, vegetables) and post-game meals for the clubhouse, Nelson asked a lot of questions. But veteran players that he came to know in his first year with the club gave him a hand.
"I was able to chat with them down in spring training," Nelson said, "and just kind of get an idea of what’s going on. I had no idea what food I needed. But I was like, ‘Well, the best person to ask is the people that you’re feeding.’ They were able to help me out."
Food isn’t the only thing Nelson has to keep in stock. When the supply of bats and Eastern League baseballs are running low, Nelson will contact Joe Cynar, the head equipment guy for the Phillies minor leagues, to get more shipped. Ditto for jerseys, extra batting-practice tops, shorts, and other countless items.
"I just have to kinda keep in contact with (Cynar) to make sure that we have enough of everything," Nelson said.
Cleaning-wise, Nelson and visitors clubhouse guy Mark Hoffman do laundry three times a day – one load in the morning to finish up from the night before, another following batting practice and then the final time once the game is complete. He and Hoffman have developed a routine where they are able to get the laundry finished in a couple of hours.
"I consider myself the mom to them," Nelson joked. "I’m the mother to 32 people, basically. Players and coaches. I’ll have food for them, do their laundry, clean up after them … But I don’t mind the job. It’s a fun job to do. You get the relationships with the players, you kinda live and die with them. (Sometimes) a player will come in and you’ll hear (manager) Dusty (Wathan) say, ‘Do you mind telling him I need to see him?’ He’s going up to Triple-A, you’re right there with him and he’s real excited."
There was no shortage of excitement last September on a Phillies’ road trip to Portland. Normally, Nelson doesn’t travel with the team, as each Eastern League team employs two clubhouse managers at its own stadium. But the Reading players wanted him to go along, so he made the eight-hour bus ride with them. Nelson was glad that he did because he was able to witness them clinching a playoff berth.
"I went out to a beer distributor and bought 45 bottles of champagne," he said. "I got it set up in the clubhouse and was able to celebrate with them up there. That was probably my most fun (experience), celebrating with them in Portland last year. That was pretty neat."
Ruiz had some pretty neat experiences of his own playing in Reading in 2004 on his way to becoming an All-Star Phillies catcher. In May, he made his first trip back to FirstEnergy Stadium since that time while working his way back to the big-league club.
Rehabbing stars John Lannan and Utley, along with former All-Star Carlos Zambrano, have also played for the Fightins this season. Last year, there were no injured big-league stars who got a taste of Baseballtown.
"All four of them so far have been very friendly, very willing to talk with people," Nelson said. "A lot of them pick their brain. Zambrano, with his slider, a couple of the guys were asking him about how he throws that nasty slider. The position players are now kinda chatting it up with Chase, getting tips and different stuff like that."
Tips are one thing.
Reading’s players were also treated to a nice post-game spread from Outback Steakhouse following their 9-8 extra-inning win over Portland on June 19 with Utley in the lineup. Just as Ruiz, Lannan and Zambrano had done previously, Utley picked up the bill.
"It’s kind of like an unwritten thing when you have re-habbers, they’ll buy food for the team," Nelson said. "(Utley) wanted steak (June 19), so I called Outback and had Outback set up individual platters for the team. They’ve actually been able to eat very well for the past couple of weeks since we’ve had both Carloses and now Chase."
Of course, it doesn’t get any less busy for Nelson when the Carloses and Chase are in town. Eventually, though the Fightins go back on the road and then he works regular eight to nine-hour days.
That’s when Nelson’s duties change. The other hat that he wears for the Fightins is one of a fundraising manager/sales representative, which Nelson also holds in the off-season.
"It’s pretty much two different jobs," Nelson said. "We try to help other organizations make money with a ticket-book fundraiser that we have. It’s a pretty fun job. We have about 115 organizations this year that I’m working with. I deal with a lot of little leagues."
Now that he’s gotten a taste of working in baseball, Nelson isn’t in any hurry to leave it. Down the road, he hopes to continue working for an organization in a front-office role.
"It could be anything really – working with the traveling and making sure that the teams get to where they need to go, players get to where they need to go, (handling) all their flight information, to even just working with contracts or whatever, really," he said. "I don’t know if I could be a clubhouse manager the rest of my life, that’s a young person’s job. In 10 years, I may be able to still be pulling it off, but I would definitely like to still move up."
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