WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Trot Nixon found a home on one of the most famous pieces of property in the United States. Nixon roamed the outfield in Boston's Fenway Park for nearly a decade, running down fly balls, diving for line drives and taking head-first tumbles into the stands to catch foul balls. Nixon had a lot of success prior to his days as a member of the Boston Red Sox, when he wore the uniforms of New Hanover High School and American Legion Post 10.
Christopher Trotman Nixon was perhaps the most decorated high school athlete in North Carolina in 1993. He was named the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Player of the Year in football and baseball. On the football field as a senior, Nixon broke school passing records held by two men who had stellar careers as quarterbacks in the National Football League, Roman Gabriel and Sonny Jurgensen. The Wildcat baseball team won the state 4A title, led by Nixon's .512 batting average, 12 home runs and state-record of 56 runs batted in. He was also pretty good on the pitcher's mound, finishing with a perfect 12-0 record and a 0.40 earned run average. Baseball America also named Nixon its' High School Player of the Year. Nixon says his father was an early influence, taking a lot of time to help sharpen his son's hitting skills.
"We banged heads quite a bit, but we worked a lot too," Nixon says about his father throwing batting practice pitches to him at fields across the city. "I was fortunate that he built a batting cage in the backyard, and we hit a lot back there, too. We would go over to our rival Hoggard High School and hit on their field on Sundays."
Nixon recalls as a high school freshman seeing baseball scouts in the stands at one of his games. In this instance, though, they didn't necessarily come to see him. That's at 14:00 of the podcast.
Nixon earned a scholarship to North Carolina State University. But in June, the Boston Red Sox drafted Nixon with the seventh pick in the first round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Nixon would soon have to make a decision. As the negotiations on a contract with the Red Sox continued through the summer, Nixon went to Raleigh and began practicing with the Wolfpack. He talks about that time at 17:30 of the podcast.
"I found out (later) that some coaches had little inside bets going on whether I was going to stay at NC State," Nixon said. "Never one minute did they ever say anything to me about it. But it came from some of the guys and equipment managers. It kind of upset me a little bit, but not so much that it changed my mind. It just affirmed that as every day got closer and closer, I'm like 'I really want to play baseball'.
In August, Nixon signed his first professional contract, leaving the Wolfpack football team to become part of the Red Sox organization. Some back problems in his first year slowed him down, but Nixon did not doubt that one day he'd be in the big leagues.
"I never doubted myself," he said. "But there were some things that I needed to understand about myself and accept about myself. A lot of it was failure. Because in high school, I didn't ever fail. When you hit .500 or .600, that's not failure. When you're 1 for 15 or 1 for 20 in three series, that's failing. I wasn't very good at handling that. I was 18, 19 years old still. Not an excuse, but I wasn't very good at that. it took me some time, and then the injury came in and slowed me down a little bit."
Nixon's climb to the majors started in Lynchburg, Virginia, as a member of the Red Sox Single-A team in the Carolina League. The next year he got off to a great start with Boston's Florida State League squad in Sarasota, earning a promotion to Trenton and Double-A in 1996. That year ended with Nixon being called up to the major leagues in September. He talks about the experience of getting into his first big league game at 25:00 of the podcast. It was against the Red Sox rivals, the New York Yankees, in famous Yankee Stadium, when Manager Kevin Kennedy sent him in to pinch-run in the eighth inning.
Later that same month, Nixon witnessed a record-breaking performance by Red Sox ace pitcher Roger Clemens. Clemens struck out 20 batters in one game against the Detroit Tigers, tying the record he had set ten years earlier. Just a few days later, another first in the young man's career took place. You can hear Nixon talk about it at 27:45 of the podcast, when veteran outfielder Mike Greenwell approached him in the dugout.
"He turned at me and said 'hey Trot, you ready to play?' I was like 'what today?' He starts laughing and says 'No, when we go back home'. I said 'sure, I'm ready to play whenever, but I'm not going to play'. He said 'alright, just be ready'. I didn't know what he was talking about.
We get back home. It was the last game of the season, and would have been Mike Greenwell's last game with the Red Sox. He had a fantastic career. He goes 'hey Trot, you ready to play today?' I said 'yeah, but why aren't you playing?' He said, ' I want you to play'."
On August 29, 1996, Trot Nixon started his first game as a major league baseball player. He played right field, and batted seventh in the lineup against the Yankees in Fenway Park. Nixon remembers walking to home plate for his first at-bat, when he actually dropped his bat in the batters' box because he was so nervous. A few pitches later, Nixon stroked his first major league hit. Nixon made it to third base, and remembers Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs telling him "welcome to the big leagues".
Nixon spent all of 1997 with Boston's Triple-A team in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, hitting .244 with 20 home runs and 61 runs batted in. He didn't make it to the big leagues that year, but in 1998, after a monster year at Triple-A (.310, 23 home runs, 74 rbi, 26 stolen bases) he got called up to the majors again at the end of the season.
"It was my fifth year, second year in Pawtucket is where I just said to myself 'you know what? God gave me an ability to play baseball. He gives all these guys the ability to play baseball. Why don't I take my mind out of everything, take that ability and go with it', because I don't have too many more opportunities'. I went out and had my best professional year that got me an opportunity to get called up (to Boston) and stay from there," Nixon says.
Nixon had two solid seasons in 1999 & 2000, and began to become a fan favorite with Red Sox fans because of his all-out, aggressive style. It was in 2001 that he took a big step forward, and he calls that season his most memorable as a professional. That comes up at 30:50 of the podcast. Nixon benefited from a lot of help from his manager, Jimy Williams.
"People don't realize how many hours he worked with me in the batting cage, just hitting, hitting, hitting," Nixon says of Williams. "He spent a lot of time with me, to the point where the organization in my very first year wanted to trade me, and Jimy goes 'No, I'm going to get him right', and he did." What also made that season special was the birth of Nixon's first son Chase, on September 11, 2001.
Nixon's breakout season was 2003, when he hit .306 with 28 home runs, as the Red Sox went to the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. Nixon hit .333 in the playoffs, but the Sox lost to the Yanks in seven games and fell short of the World Series. The next season, injuries limited Nixon to 48 regular season games, but the team made the playoffs and reached the World Series, where Nixon would hit .357 in a four-game sweep of St. Louis. That win gave Boston it's first World Series Championship in 86 years. The frenzy of what it meant to die-hard fans is at 33:00 of the podcast.
Nixon played two more seasons with the Red Sox. He was limited to 114 games in 2006, and the time came for the 32-year-old to test the free-agent market. An injury hurt his value, though, which Nixon talks about at 39:30 of the podcast.
"It was really difficult because one day I woke up, and all of a sudden it felt like if I had a pouch over my leg and somebody was pouring hot cement in there," Nixon says, describing his pain. "I knew it was a problem. I had a herniated disc, and the disc was pushing against a nerve and just shutting everything down in my left leg. That was scary. That was upsetting, because I literally couldn't do anything. That kind of squashed my free agency real quick. I got it repaired, and two teams wanted me, that's it. The Oakland A's and Cleveland Indians."
Nixon chose Cleveland, which he talks about at 41:45.
"I don't want to sound too harsh, but at the major league level, you're a player. You're a piece of meat. That might be too harsh, because I know there's a lot of great owners out there. But, it's a business. The one thing you realize is as a player, you might think you have a great relationship with a general manager or coaching staff. Then all of a sudden, you might get traded or you don't re-sign, or maybe you had an extension on your contract that was taken away because you got hurt. Those kinds of things sting. Then you realize, okay this is a business."
Nixon played 99 games for the Indians in 2007. In 2008, he signed on with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was released and later got back to the majors with the New York Mets, playing in 11 games before an injury. Nixon signed on with the Milwaukee Brewers for 2009, but was released in the spring, ending his professional baseball career and beginning the next chapter of his life. He talks about making that adjustment at 48:45 of the podcast.
"What made it easier for me was, I was able to be with my wife and two boys," Nixon says. "My oldest boy was playing baseball and football. My youngest was a little too young at the time, but he was doing the same thing. So those kind of things kept me going. Being able to coach. Having some opportunities to make some appearances. I got to go to Iraq and spend some time with military guys stationed in Iraq. That was a pretty special two weeks. I had a lot of things keeping me busy, and I think that was the biggest thing. For a lot of professional athletes, if they don't have that, maybe they don't have that significant other or kids, it's really difficult."
Nixon was inducted into the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, joining his high school football coach Joe Miller who was inducted two years earlier. Nixon has returned to Fenway park, throwing out ceremonial first pitches on several occasions. He still marvels that after retiring from baseball, he is still recognized on the streets of Boston by Red Sox fans.
"That's when I knew I was spoiled as a professional athlete," he says about Red Sox fans and their love for the team and the players. "I've got a lot of other buddies that played in other organizations, they could not say that."
Nixon spends time now coaching baseball and football teams, and watching his sons play the same sports he did. He tries to encourage their interests, making sure they don't play just because their father was a player.
I couldn't let Trot get away without asking about some of the athletes he played with and against in his decade-plus of major league baseball. Those stories begin at 58:30 of the podcast, along with how he earned the nickname "dirt dog". Now eight years after walking off the diamond as a professional athlete, his priorities are Kathryn, Chase, Luke and the family's black lab named Fenway.
"I've got no complaints," he says. "I love being on the field. I've spent just about every day on the baseball field this summer. Getting ready to spend time on the field doing what I love to do, being involved in athletics here in Wilmington and watching my boys play. They probably don't realize it, but the most pleasure I have in my life is sitting back and watch my boys play football or baseball or basketball. That's the most fun for me."
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