'Sense of pride' for Alyssa Nakken in debut

July 27th, 2020

Fifteen Giants players made their first Opening Day rosters last week, but they weren’t the only ones who experienced their first season opener in the Majors.

Several members of manager Gabe Kapler’s coaching staff also made their Major League debuts at Dodger Stadium, including Alyssa Nakken, the first full-time female coach in big league history. She now has a place in Cooperstown, after she donated her No. 92 jersey to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to commemorate the moment.

It marked the second major milestone of the week for Nakken, who smashed another glass ceiling last Monday when she coached first base in an exhibition game against the A’s. The 30-year-old Nakken replaced incumbent first-base coach Antoan Richardson for the final innings of the contest, becoming the first woman to coach in an on-field capacity in the Majors.

“I was always preparing and staying ready for whatever position I'd be put in,” Nakken said during a recent Zoom call with reporters. “We've talked about this opportunity before, but it kind of came quick. I was ready to go when Antoan Richardson encouraged me to go out there.

“You feel a sense of pride to be out there. Me personally, it's the best place to watch a game, that’s for sure.”

Nakken credited Richardson with being a particularly strong advocate for her growth and development as a coach. They first met at the Giants’ Minor League facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., one day before the club announced her historic appointment to Kapler’s staff in January.

Richardson immediately made himself available as a resource for Nakken, showing her around the complex and facilitating introductions with other members of the organization. The two were frequently spotted working together during Spring Training and Summer Camp, jointly overseeing outfield and baserunning instruction for the Giants.

“I tell him quite often that I don't have enough words to tell him how grateful I am for him every single day, just the way that he pushes me and encourages me to take a step further in development,” Nakken said. “We're brother and sister. With that, brothers and sisters challenge each other. He and I have had some of the most challenging conversations that I've ever had in my life. I grow so much from them. It's amazing. I wish that everybody could have somebody in their life like that.”

A former standout on the Sacramento State softball team, Nakken joined the Giants as a baseball operations intern in 2014 and served in various front-office capacities before becoming an assistant coach on Kapler’s staff. She has shown an eagerness to soak in as much information from other coaches and players as possible, a process that didn’t stop when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sport in March.

Nakken said she used the three-month hiatus to continue watching video and studying opposing pitchers to analyze how they control the running game. She leaned on that knowledge as the first-base coach, relaying signs to baserunners and providing them with each pitcher’s time to the plate.

Aside from her on-field appearance, Nakken said one of the highlights of her tenure thus far was receiving the opportunity to inform two players that they had made the Opening Day roster and would be making the trip to Los Angeles.

“Those moments were ‘wow’ moments,” Nakken said.

Nakken is expected to join the Giants on all their road trips this season, but she will not be in uniform during games, as Major League Baseball allows only eight coaches in the dugout. The Giants have 13 coaches on their staff, the most in baseball, so Nakken will work behind the scenes to help get players ready for games.

Still, Nakken has relished the opportunity to raise the visibility of women working in baseball and to show young girls that there are now similar career paths available to them as well. Kapler said Nakken is part of the team’s DNA as much as any other member of the coaching staff.

"We just see Alyssa as an especially effective coach, period," Kapler said earlier this month. "At this point, she's so ingrained in our culture and so ingrained as a member of our coaching staff that she's just going around making players and staff members better. That's how I see it when I see her out on the field."