Cole Nelson: Road to the Show
Solid left-handed pitchers are a commodity in baseball these days. That’s good news for Cole Nelson, the tall, hard-throwing southpaw and Edina native who currently plays for the Twins’ minor league affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla.
Nelson “returned home” to the Twins system last August in the trade that sent outfielder Delmon Young to the Detroit Tigers in time for their playoffs run. Even though the opportunity to don the white T and red C and pitch at Target Field is still distant, Cole and his family welcomed the news as a dream come true.
“It was an off day so I didn’t have my phone with me,” recalls Cole. “I found out from my friends, and only later heard the voicemail from the Tigers’ people. When I called my mom, she didn’t believe me. She went online to doublecheck it.”
In fact, the news that her older son was now under the tutelage of the Minnesota Twins was bittersweet for Tracy Nelson, who had lost her husband seven months earlier. Dale, a native of Red Wing, was a lifelong Twins fan and a student of the physics of the game. Dale taught Cole and his younger brother Chase to play catch on their dead-end block of Thielen Avenue. He also took the boys to the Metrodome to cheer their heroes on the diamond. They had season tickets for years.
“My dad was a huge baseball fan, and he bred me that way, too,” says Nelson. “I feed off his passion for the game.”
Cole Nelson, born in 1989 and a 2007 Edina High School graduate, was too young to follow stars like Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, but he grew up watching videos of the Twins’ World Series victories in 1987 and 1991. In particular, Jack Morris’ improbable 10-inning shutout performance in Game 7 of the ’91 Fall Classic mesmerized him. Last summer in Fort Myers, Fla., the Tiger’s spring training home, Cole got to meet Morris and pick his brain.
“Mentally, he was such a strong pitcher, in terms of his work ethic and determination,” says Cole. “You could see it when he pitched. He talked to us about having a will to win that can get you through a game, even when you don’t have your best stuff. I tried to learn from that.”
Nelson has had to dig deep and find the will to pitch through adversity this season after injuring his right ankle in spring training and staying behind after most players joined their clubs. In May he rejoined the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League—a Class A-Advanced team in the Twins’ minor league hierarchy. (To reach the major leagues, Cole would have to ascend through the AA club in New Britain, Conn., and the AAA club in Rochester, Minn.)
“He started pretty slow in spring training and we kept him back to work on his delivery because his velocity was down and his mechanics got messed up,” says Twins’ director of minor leagues Jim Rantz. “But we needed a pitcher with the [Fort Myers] Miracle and he’s done pretty well down there. He has worked with the staff and turned things around.
“He’s a good-sized kid who throws a fastball, slider and changeup, and tops out at 91 miles per hour, which is plenty good. He’s come a long way with his velocity and pitching, and we want him to have some success before we move him higher.”
Nelson has pitched well out of the bullpen for the Miracle, appearing in 12 games and striking out 40 batters while recording two saves and posting a sparkling earned run average of 3.86 (anything under four is considered quality).
Rantz says that Nelson could be asked to start games at some point, but for now the Edina native is happy whether he pitches the first inning or the ninth inning. He just wants to throw strikes and get batters out.
“It doesn’t really matter to me where I pitch as long as I develop more consistency with all my pitches and am able to throw every pitch for a strike in any count,” says Cole. “It’s about practice through repetition—and not getting ahead of myself.”
Pitching in the major leagues is still a distant dream, with no guarantee of getting there. Nonetheless, Nelson attended Twins Fest over the winter and rubbed elbows with manager Ron Gardenhire and star catcher Joe Mauer, himself a local phenom.
And as every baseball fan knows, hard-throwing left-handed pitchers are a hot commodity—from the majors down to Rookie League. That’s one more pitch in Cole Nelson’s arsenal.
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