Joe Nelson: Perseverance pays off
Reliever having strong season one year after surgery
Not one day goes by when I put on a Major League uniform that I take my life for granted. This is my 13th or 14th year playing pro ball, and 10 of those were spent in the Minor Leagues.
It's been a grind and people ask me how I do it. Some people back home can't believe I'm still playing. I think they give me credit for sticking with doing what I love, though. It's definitely not easy trudging through the Minors for 10 years, but my family has always supported me. Without them, I would have been done a long time ago. They mean the world to me.
Coming to Florida this season was a fresh start. After a couple of years in Kansas City, I signed here because I knew Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was my manager in the Fall League, and bench coach Carlos Tosca, who was my manager in Triple-A.
I was coming off labrum surgery that caused me to miss the entire season last year. It was my fourth arm surgery, but I had confidence that, if I showed them that I was healthy, I would be given a chance to compete for a big league job.
Fredi and Carlos both knew I had a strong work ethic and that I was a "character" guy. I think they believed that, if I was healthy, I could help. At this point in the season, I think it's worked out and I'm still throwing strikes. My arm feels good.
As I said, I appreciate every chance I get to play. When the day finally comes, they're going to have to rip the uniform off me. I've been released so many times it doesn't faze me anymore -- it's all a learning experience.
I came up in Atlanta's system, and they have a brilliant Minor League system. A lot of what I know about baseball I learned in the Braves' system. Then I got a chance to play in Boston with a big-market team in a true media circus. Kansas City and Florida are closer to the other end of the spectrum. But one thing is for sure: I've learned something from each team I've played with.
The main reason I think that I'm able to still pitch after four arm surgeries is the good doctors I have had. I say that partially in jest, because my wife is a radiologist and she's a great doctor. She was my radiologist when I blew out my elbow. In fact, she actually diagnosed my injury.
The other reason I'm still pitching is a great support system, beginning with my wife. My wife kicking me out of the house and telling me to get it done is something most people don't see behind the scenes.
When we were in Oakland, I went through 68 tickets in a three-game stretch because that's the area I'm from. Everyone asked me what it's like having so many people there specifically watching you. I tell them that when I pitch I feel like there are 30 people on the mound with me, because that's how many people it took to get me to the place I am now. I never feel like I am alone out there.
I think back to all the practices my mom drove me to. When I give up a few runs I come home and my daughter still tells me that I looked good on TV. Then she wants to know if I saw Billy The Marlin. Stuff like that makes you realize that baseball is just a game. It puts it all in perspective.
Journeyman reliever Joe Nelson is having a strong season since joining the Marlins in late May. He has a 1.89 ERA over 43 contests, the latter of which equals his career high.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.