Nady tries to take journeyman career full circle
Veteran's first at-bat came with Padres, whom he hopes to rejoin as non-roster invitee
PEORIA, Ariz. -- When negotiations between Scott Boras and the Padres dragged on all summer and then into September of 2000, it became increasingly apparent to Xavier Nady that he would have to wait until the following season to make his professional debut.
Then the phone rang.
"I had been sitting around in an apartment in Berkeley and suddenly got the call from my agent that we had come to terms on a contract and they wanted to bring me up," Nady said.
"They wanted to bring me up," Nady repeated. "I was pretty confused about the whole thing. So I went up to the big leagues. They didn't have a locker for me, so they made one for me in the training room. I pretty much just kept my mouth shut the whole time."
That is, until Sept. 30, the penultimate day of the regular season, when Nady, sitting quietly in the home dugout at Qualcomm Stadium, was summoned by then-Padres manager Bruce Bochy. Even now, some 14 years removed from the moment, Nady can still hear Bochy's gravelly voice in his head.
"I'm sitting there, not having done a single thing, and we're losing, 10-0 or something. And then, all of a sudden, Bochy looks down toward me and says, 'Nady, you're hitting third.' I was like, 'Oh, God,' Nady remembered recently. "[Phil] Nevin asked if I was going in. I told him I was. He told me to swing at the first pitch."
Thirteen days removed from signing a contract, Nady was on his way to the plate in front of a crowd of over 50,000, most of whom probably had no idea who he was. Pinch-hitting for pitcher Todd Erdos, he stepped into the box not caring the least about the score, the game or that the Padres were headed to another last-place finish in the National League West Division.
He was too scared to think about any of that.
"I was so nervous that I let two heaters go right down the middle for strikes, so I'm 0-2," said Nady, who was facing Onan Masaoka of the Dodgers. "But I battled back to get the count full, and then singled up the middle. It was pretty cool."
But Nady, then 21 and just a handful of months removed from playing for the University of California, was not able to enjoy his moment for long.
"Of course, the next batter, Damien Jackson, comes up and hits the first pitch off the wall in left field … so I had to score from first base," Nady said.
Standing in the hallway of the Padres' Spring Training complex, Nady thinks back on the moment -- and his place in history -- and smiles. He remains only the third position player in the Draft era (since 1965) to have his first pro hit occur in the Major Leagues in his first at-bat. Rob Ellis (1971, Brewers) and John Olerud (1989, Blue Jays) are the others.
"What an unbelievable moment," Nady said.
To be sure, there have been a few of those during a career that has seen Nady play for eight Major League teams, including two World Series champion teams (2009 Yankees and 2012 Giants). Nady has had Tommy John surgery twice. The scars are hardly visible anymore. The memories will last for a lifetime, he said.
"I'm thankful for every day to put this uniform on," Nady said. "I know it doesn't last forever, but it's sure been a lot of fun."
Nady, 35, is hopeful this isn't the end. He's in Padres camp as a non-roster invitee, trying to land a spot on manager Bud Black's bench as someone capable of playing first base and the corner outfield and who can hit, especially against left-handed pitching late in games.
So far, Nady has performed well. He carries a .333 average after going 1-for-3 against the Angels on Friday in Peoria. He had one home run this spring, an opposite-field shot off a lefty last week that impressed the Padres' coaching staff.
"We're getting 'X' out there as often as we can," Black said. "I think that he's swinging the bat well. It was good to see the opposite-field home run. His versatility, his ability to play first and go to the outfield and experience of an NL player, handling the role of bench player … that's comforting for us to know where he's been."
Where he's been? Where hasn't he been?
Nady, after that big league debut late in 2000, spent 2001-02 in the Padres' Minor League system. He then reached the big leagues again in 2003, where he spent parts of the next three seasons playing for the Padres. Fox Sports San Diego television broadcaster Mark Sweeney was a teammate in 2005 and saw a player on the cusp of doing some big things.
"The way the ball came off his bat … it comes off different," Sweeney said.
Nady was traded to the Mets in the winter of 2005 for outfielder Mike Cameron, setting off a flurry of transactions that saw him play for seven teams over the next seven years.
"As a little kid, your goal is to play in the big leagues," Nady said. "I've been fortunate to be a part of a handful of amazing organizations. I've been a part of two teams that have won a World Series, and I've played with an unbelievable amount of Hall of Famers, people who have made me a better player, a better person."
A year ago, Nady was in Spring Training with the Royals but sustained a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his right foot. He spent part of the season playing for the Royals' Triple-A affiliate before he was released in June. It was during that time when he questioned if his career was over -- and if he was ready for it to be over.
"When you have a family and you're away, it makes you debate a lot of stuff," Nady said. "Honestly, I didn't know if I was going to play this year. You're in Triple-A, and you're 34, so at some point you've got to look at yourself in the mirror."
Nady signed a Minor League deal with the Rockies and finished the season with their Triple-A team. This past offseason, Nady, who makes his home in San Diego, got a call from the Padres.
"We had just traded [Jesus] Guzman and had this competition for a right-handed bat off the bench, and we presented it to him," said Padres assistant general manager A.J. Hinch. "He was all on board. And he wanted to be a Padre. It was an easy sell for him and an easy one of us internally, especially with his history here and the things that have been said about him."
It's already starting to feel like home again, Nady said.
"I came up with this organization, and there's guys I still see a lot: Trevor Hoffman, Mark Loretta, Nevin, Mark Kotsay," Nady said. "I feel like I've been fortunate to have been around so many of these guys."