Nago uses his experience, knowledge to help prospects
SAN JOSE, Calif. » Six hours before the first pitch at Municipal Stadium, Garrett Nago has thrown hundreds.
Right now he's working with fellow Arizona alumnus Brad Boyer, one of the San Jose Giants players working on his swing.
Part of Nago's job is to help Boyer get to the place he nearly reached -- the major leagues.
Because of their shared background and Boyer's good attitude, this task is fun for Nago. But it's still hard work in the hot sun.
They go over making adjustments for slow curveballs, with Nago mixing benders in with fastballs from about 30 feet away in the batting cage.
Before long, the grounders turn into solid line drives, and the lesson is learned. Nago's T-shirt is drenched.
"Thanks, Rip," Boyer says.
Nago used to be "Ace," or "G." Now he's "Rip."
"They call me that because I'm always talking to them about taking short rips," Nago says. "For these guys now, everything's about home runs. But they have to learn how to get base hits, too."
THERE ARE THOSE who can't miss, and then there are those who just miss.
Non-roster invitee catcher Garrett Nago tore up the Cactus League pitching in 1986, and it looked like the Pearl City High School graduate was going to stick with the Milwaukee Brewers big club. He was told to pack his bags for New York, since that's where the Brewers were opening the season.
"Bob Uecker was joking with me about it," Nago said. "Maybe he jinxed me. It's funny. Of all the years for the majors to go to a 24-man roster."
So Nago didn't make it. He became a Crash Davis kind of guy, stuck in Triple-A because he was very good at handling young pitchers. He finished up as a player-coach in the Astros organization in 1989, retiring due to frustration more than anything else.
"I was only 30. I think I might have thrown in the towel too early with the Brewers," he said. "If I had a chance to do it over I would probably do some different things."
After 15 years away from pro baseball, Nago joined the San Jose Giants coaching staff last year after a chance meeting with manager Lenn Sakata at the AJA Asahi team's 100th anniversary party. A highly successful youth baseball coach in Hawaii (World Series titles in American Legion and Junior ball), Nago said he enjoys working with the young pros he coaches now.
"These guys have a good attitude here, most of these guys," Nago said. "They're still in search of trying to acquire a good swing instead of guys still experienced but here, thinking they should be somewhere else already."
With nine years of experience as a pro, Nago has the background to teach young prospects to deal with the daily grind.
"It's one thing good about baseball, that tomorrow's another day and you're fortunate you can come back tomorrow after a bad day," he said. "Baseball's a failure game, but I tell them you're in a position a lot of people would like to be in. You're elite here, so might as well go hard."
Sakata said Nago has adjusted well in his return to pro baseball.
"It's something that gradually has to take hold, because it is different now than it was 15 years ago," Sakata said. "They're crying out for discipline, structure and direction."
Nago, who returns to Hawaii in the offseason and works as a construction inspector, said he doesn't have any set goals for this part of his baseball life. He said he'd like to follow this group of Giants up the ladder, help them get to the show, and then go back to San Jose and start over again. But he knows that's not how it works.
It's obvious Nago never lost his love for the game.
Sometimes he wonders what might have happened with his playing career if things were a little different.
"If I was around someone like Lenny, a little older with more insight, I might have stayed with it," he said. "I was lucky I ran into him for this job."