Joe Nelson is well-acquainted with the ups-and-downs of professional baseball. The journeyman reliever has spent much of his career shuttling back-and-forth between the minors and The Show, having done so numerous times with multiple organizations. Currently in his second stint with the Red Sox organization, Nelson came into the season having logged 302 minor-league appearances and 149 in the big leagues.
On getting sent back down: “It used to affect me a lot more when I was younger. Every day when I came to the field, I’d wonder if it was D-Day, and I was going to get sent down. As I’ve gotten older and matured as a player, I’ve come to better understand that a lot of the decisions that are made are out of your hands. Sometimes it’s a numbers game, sometimes you’re not doing well, and if you sit there and worry about it, like I used to, you don’t sleep. It beats you up mentally, and you’re never comfortable. I take the ball every time they give it to me and do the best I can, and if it’s not good enough, somebody will come and tap you on the shoulder and let you know that the manager wants to see you. But I worry about that less and less because the only things I have control over are my preparation and how I perform on the field. Other than that, there are a lot of decisions and reasons that go into players getting shipped up and down.”
On not making the team out of spring training: “Spring training used to be a stressful time where you’d sit there and wait for the manager to come and say that they needed to talk to you. Now I could care less. If I’m not doing my job and they send me down, I got what was coming to me. You can’t stress about it, and it’s really hard to realize that when you’re younger because every inning you pitch is the biggest inning you’ll ever throw. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that spring training is a time to get ready. Although I’m competing for a job, I still have to prepare for the season to start, and one inning doth not make a career. It’s not the end of the world.”
On minor-league contracts: “If you’re on the opening-day roster, your contract is guaranteed. But if you’re a guy who gets called up two days into the season, you’re pro-rated when you’re in the big leagues, and then it goes back down to a minor-league contract when you’re down there. It’s a harsh reality because it’s significantly different. You probably make about a tenth of what you make in the big leagues. The meal money is different, the travel is different, your expenses are different. You’re just making a significant amount less.”
On being realistic: “I feel the pressures to provide for my family, and the easiest way to do that is to be in the big leagues and make more money. But, realistically, there are only X amount of guys that can be in the big leagues at any given time, and if you’re fortunate enough to be one of those guys, you’ve got to take every single day like it was your last. I treat this game that way because one day they are going to take the uniform away.”
On the ups-and-downs: “The minor leagues are a lot less glorious than a lot of people think, but it’s still a job and in Triple-A you’re one phone call away from being at the apex of your career in the major leagues. But that phone just doesn’t ring often enough, it seems like. It’s a grind every single day and once you’ve been in the big leagues, to go back down to the minors is frustrating and mentally challenging. Some guys just can’t hack it, and some guys say, 'All right, I’ve got to regroup and prove myself again.' I’m one of those latter guys who have always had to prove myself, and if I have to continue to do that, I will.”