ANAHEIM -- Phil Nevin’s tenure as Angels interim manager is off to an interesting start. That was to be expected, given that he took over for Joe Maddon in the midst of what ended up becoming the longest losing streak in franchise history. The all-Nickelback walk-up music was somewhat less expected, though.
A few days in now, with his first win under his belt, Nevin is starting to adjust to his new role.
“Just waking up and coming to the park, it'll feel more normal each day, I know that,” Nevin said.
And Nevin has reason to feel right at home at Angel Stadium, having grown up in nearby Fullerton and played both baseball and football at Cal State Fullerton.
He even got his start as a manager in Fullerton. Following the end of his 12-year Major League career, he took over as skipper of the independent league Orange County Flyers in 2008, after former manager Gary Carter was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“The owner knew a friend of mine and asked me to go manage the team, and I was pretty reluctant at first, [but I] got some encouragement from some people, [including] Tim Wallach and Kevin Towers,” said Nevin. “[They said,] ‘Hey, short season, go see what it’s like, I think you'd like this.’ And the second I was on the field with the players in uniform, and just that team camaraderie … I missed that part of it. And then getting to see how players react to you at times, that's what I like.
"I mean, this is what I've done my whole life, and I love being in the clubhouse with the guys. I love the games. I love the relationships you create with the players, the clubhouse kids, the media, everybody. For me, that's what this game and my life has been all about.”
Nevin went on to manage in the Minors, in the Tigers’ and D-backs’ systems, for parts of seven seasons, from 2010-16. He was hired as the Giants’ third-base coach ahead of the '17 season, then served that same role with the Yankees from '18-21 before joining the Angels at that position this year.
In describing his managerial style, Nevin emphasized first and foremost his philosophy of relationship building throughout the organization, which includes checking in with each of his players every single day. He “embraces” analytics, but he also believes that small ball has a time and a place in contemporary baseball, and you might see him call for a bunt later on in games. He’s also not afraid to get emotional when the situation calls for it.
While Nevin has had aspirations of managing in the Majors for a while now, he noted at his introductory press conference on Tuesday that this was not how he imagined things happening. He’d envisioned a more celebratory occasion, not one with the shadow of his mentor’s dismissal hanging over it -- even if Maddon addressed him with grace in their talk after the news broke.
“This isn't how I drew it up,” Nevin said. “But we're here now, and we got jobs to do.”