SARASOTA, Fla. -- Like so many boys born to a father who played in the big leagues, Tyler Nevin grew up in dugouts and on the dirt, bouncing around professional clubhouses. Tyler was nearly 10 years old by the time his dad, All-Star slugger Phil Nevin, was finishing his productive big league career in 2006, having hit 208 home runs across 12 big league seasons, seven of which were with the Padres. By then, it was already obvious Tyler had inherited his father’s love for the game.
When other player’s children retreated to the kid’s playroom during games, Tyler watched intently, often keeping score. He mimed his favorite players’ batting stances in his spare time and he mimicked the voices of his favorite announcers. Baseball wasn’t just in Tyler’s blood. It was also clearly in his heart.
“It’s been part of my life since the beginning and I’m very fortunate for that,” said Tyler, now an Orioles prospect in his first Spring Training with the club. “I was around all the time, any time I could be. I grew up in San Diego, and that’s where the majority of his years were when I was growing up. And every day during the summer and every weekend during the school year, we were trying to get to a game. I just loved being out there, watching it up close and personal.”
That education continued when Phil returned to the dugout after retirement, managing the independent Orange County Flyers, and then at various outposts in the Tigers’ and D-backs' systems. Tyler was a teenager by this point, on his way to growing into the Rockies' supplemental first-round Draft pick in 2015.
Sometimes, Phil flew home from Toledo, Ohio, or Erie, Pa., for as little as 24 hours at a time. Other times, Tyler flew to visit his dad on the Minor League circuit. Phil said players he managed in those days still text him asking about Tyler.
“He always sat in the dugout with me,” Phil told MLB.com in a phone interview. “He got to see the prospects that didn't make it, and the guys that maybe weren't the most talented but did make it. He came to understand why that guy made it over another guy, why a more talented guy didn't make it over another guy. He saw how they interacted with people, how coachable they were. He picked that up early and still talks about it.”
Said Tyler: “The biggest influence my dad had on my career had almost nothing to do with the actual game. I haven’t really encountered a situation where I didn’t know what to expect, because I could always go to him about how to go about it. Having him to go to as a dad, but also as a mentor, has been a huge factor in my career.”
Flash forward to the present day, and the father-and-son duo might soon become division rivals in the big leagues. Phil is entering his fourth year as the Yankees' third base coach. Tyler is ranked as the O’s No. 23 prospect by MLB Pipeline, knocking on the door after Baltimore acquired him from Colorado in the Michael Givens trade last July. The 23-year-old is a right-handed-hitting corner infielder like his dad, but with more natural hit ability than power.
So far, Phil and Tyler are yet to play/coach together on the same team. But they’ve already shared several on-field moments. Before Tuesday’s exhibition between the Yankees and Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium, the O's sent Tyler out to home plate to exchange lineup cards before first pitch. He was greeted by a familiar face: His dad’s.
“That was special,” Tyler said.
Said Phil: “Mom and grandma wanted a picture, so I embarrassed him a little bit and made him come out in front of his teammates and take a picture with his old man.”
Father and son exchanged lineup cards once before, back in Spring Training 2017, when Tyler was a lower-level prospect and Phil was coaching for the Giants. They also saw more of each other then; during Tyler’s first three springs in pro ball, Tyler and Phil were both based in Arizona, so they became spring roommates.
“It was a special time for a dad,” Phil said. “That part was cool … I’m really grateful I was there to coach him through it.”
The dynamic is familiar to Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, who routinely spends time with his son Colton at the ballpark throughout the year. Colton, 13, was a fixture by Hyde’s side before the pandemic; he could often be seen playing catch with and picking the brains of big leaguers both at the O's spring complex and at Camden Yards.
The Orioles’ father-son connections don’t end there: Hunter Harvey’s dad, Bryan, was a two-time All-Star closer in the 1990s; Richie Martin’s grandfather, Walter Thomas, played in the Negro Leagues with Jackie Robinson; third-base coach Tony Mansolino’s father, Doug, is a Minor League coordinator for the Braves. Ryan Ripken, Cal Jr.’s eldest son, is also in camp.
“Knowing their routine, being a part of what a clubhouse looks like and seeing the work that these guys put in firsthand as a kid, I think that’s really helpful later down the road,” Hyde said. “I think that when you grow up in that environment, you realize professional baseball players are just like everybody else, and it’s a special feeling that you know those guys. But at the same time, they’re real to you. I think it’s helpful knowing that you can maybe do what they’re doing someday.”