Nichols on the rise as Williamsport closer

Chris Nichols has excelled lately as a closer at Williamsport in a rocky season that has included two demotions.
Chris Nichols has excelled lately as a closer at Williamsport in a rocky season that has included two demotions.
Posted: August 05, 2013

WILLIAMSPORT - As with any 31st-round draft pick, the odds are against Chris Nichols' ever pitching in the big leagues the way his father, Rod, did with three teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That's not going to stop him from having the time of his life trying.

Something special happened for Chris and Rod Nichols in June 2012. Rod was in his 13th season as a minor-league pitching coach with the Phillies when he learned the team was going to make Chris a 31st-round pick. Father was given the honor of telling his son.

"I had a little bit of an idea, but it was just a little bit surreal," Chris said. "I was at work when it happened and it was the last day of the draft. My phone rang and I saw that it was my dad and I was like, 'Why is he calling me right now?' He was the one who told me and we decided I'd sign. It was a great experience. It felt like all the hard work and cold baseball games in South Dakota and Montana had paid off."

Cold baseball is what Chris Nichols played most of his life. He went to high school and played American Legion ball in Montana before moving to the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. Chris, who turns 23 later this month, also spent a lot of summers with his father as he worked his way through the Phillies' minor-league system before returning to the big leagues as the bullpen coach with the Phillies this season.

"We were very fortunate the Phillies drafted him," Rod Nichols said. "It's not awkward at all for me. I guess being a dad is the hard part, but he's such a good, young man that it's not hard at all."

Perhaps, but this season has been a difficult one for Chris Nichols. It started at high-A Clearwater, but that lasted only five games before he was demoted to low-A Lakewood. After four games there, he was sent to Williamsport, the Phillies' short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League. He had already been there for most of last season.

"It was a little bit difficult," Chris Nichols said. "But at the same time, when I went down - first to Lakewood and then to Williamsport - I knew I was going to get an opportunity to pitch and that was the easiest part to fall back on. I knew I wasn't going down to sit on the bench or in the bullpen, and I like playing. Nobody wants to be demoted, but the next day I'm in a new place and I have to have that good, positive mind-set to prove I can pitch."

After his rocky stints at Clearwater and Lakewood, Nichols has posted a 1.98 ERA in eight appearances at Williamsport. After each of his outings, he gets telephone pitching tips from his father.

"He has always been my mentor and the guy I go to when I get done pitching," Chris Nichols said. "This goes back to Legion ball and high school. I'd always call him after the games, especially in college. Now, I still call him when I'm done, but he's able to watch the video the team has and go through it with me."

The father was there for the son last Sunday night, when Chris was charged with the first blown save of his career.

"The other day he blew a save and he was kind of bummed out about it," Rod Nichols said. "I talked to Pap [Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon] about it because we know the feeling. You can't teach that. If you've never blown a save, you don't know how it feels. It's a great learning experience for him. I was happy it happened, but at the same time I knew how hard it was to go through it. Now he's been through it and hopefully he'll get better."

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