Nelson finds comfort zone back in Iowa
DES MOINES – Brad Nelson is still in pursuit of his ultimate dream.
After going through the usual peaks and valleys along the way, the 30-year old former Bishop Garrigan three-time all-stater continues to patiently wait for another major league call-up.
This summer, Nelson is currently batting .269 (76-for-283) with 54 RBI, 37 runs, 15 longballs and 15 doubles in 84 games for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, who now lead the Pacific Coast League American Northern Division.
Nelson signed with the Cubs organization as a non-roster invitee last Dec. 21. Current Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum previously served as interim manager (2008) and hitting coach (2009-10) during Nelson’s MLB stint with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“It’s been a typical baseball season with ups and downs,” said the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Nelson, who was picked by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2001 June free agent amateur draft. “I started this year a little slower than what I wanted, but overall I’m happy since our team is in first place.
“It’s huge being able to play in my home state and get the chance to be around family and friends more. I had some other offers (last winter), but I kind of felt like this opportunity was meant to be.
“You have to be in the right place at the right time. When (the Cubs) called, I liked their situation the best, but that was before (current Chicago Cubs star first baseman Anthony) Rizzo was locked up (Rizzo signed a seven-year, $41 million contract extension this past May). In the long run, you can’t be too picky.”
In his 13 years of minor league ball, Nelson has compiled a .269 batting average, 1,383 hits, 847 RBI, 785 runs, 327 doubles and 196 home runs in 1,412 games. Nelson blasted 24 roundtrippers in both the 2011 and ’12 campaigns for the Round Rock Express, which is the Triple-A affiliate for the Texas Rangers.
Nelson had only a brief cup of coffee in the major leagues during the 2008 and ’09 seasons for Milwaukee, including a pair of plate appearances in the ’08 NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Nelson’s first MLB hit was a 10th-inning double in a pinch-hit opportunity against the New York Mets’ Luis Ayala on Sept. 2 of 2008. Nelson was eventually outrighted back to Triple-A. Nelson then opted for free agency the next day, eventually inking a minor-league deal with the Seattle Mariners.
“A lot of good luck has to happen to you, but I feel I can still play up (in the major leagues) and show my versatility,” Nelson said. “I feel confident in my ability, and know I can still produce. I just need another chance to prove myself.”
During his standout prep career, Nelson helped lead the Golden Bears to a Class 2A state runner-up showing as a sophomore in 1999. That Garrigan squad continues to hold state records for most runs (523), home runs (90) and RBI (461) in a season.
Nelson himself actually owns all-time Iowa marks for most hits (83) and RBI (91) in a season. His 27 home runs in one year still ranks second-best in state history and fifth all-time nationally, while his 91 RBI are third nationally.
On the hardwood, Nelson scored 1,882 career points for the Golden Bears, including 62 in a seven-overtime North Central Conference victory against St. Edmond in 1999.
“I started baseball at such a young age and was playing regularly midway through my eighth-grade year,” said Nelson. “All those home runs both individually and as a team sticks out most about high school baseball, but it didn’t just happen. I worked hard and had a dad that was doing something sports related with me anytime he was free.”
Despite not playing baseball for Garrigan in his senior year, Nelson still managed 49 career prep dingers. He helped the Kansas City Monarchs AAU team to an 18-under national title in 2001 by hitting the game-winning homer in the championship contest. He delivered five home runs and 19 RBI in the 10-game tournament.
Nelson, who committed to the University of Nebraska out of high school, was named the Brewers’ 2002 Minor League Player of the Year after pacing all minor-leaguers in RBI (116) and doubles (49) at the age of 19. He was selected to the 2002 Midwest League and 2004 Southern League All-Star games, where he won the home run derby at both events.
Prior to the 2003 season, Baseball America tabbed Nelson as Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect. He was also a member of the 2005 PCL champion Nashville Sounds.
“The two things I’ve always been known for are hitting and being a good clubhouse guy,” Nelson said. “I came up (to the major leagues) with a lot of buddies like Prince (Fielder), J.J. (Hardy) and Corey (Hart), so that helped me relax and not be overwhelmed. Something nobody can take away from myself is that I’ll always have a title of major league ball player.
“Getting drafted coming from small town Algona was just a huge honor, but what sticks out most was getting my first call-up.”
No matter what the future holds, Nelson has few regrets about the past.
“I’m not going to look back and think of my career as a failure,” Nelson said. “I’ve been blessed to play this long. Outside of breaking a hamate bone at the beginning of 2003, I’ve stayed pretty healthy – knock on wood. I’m going to keep going at it.”