Nixon loves hockey, but his focus is on his future in baseball
The 2014 Winter Olympics have featured the world’s greatest hockey players, including Team Canada, who defeated both women’s and men’s U.S. hockey teams on Thursday and Friday.
Rob Nixon loves hockey, but it was America’s past time that led to his career. Nixon, 25, is a native of Welland, Ontario, a town just southwest of Niagara Falls.
The 6-foot-1 right-hander was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 46th round of the 2011 draft out of Adelphi University in New York. He spent his draft season with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, where he remained in a starting role that carried over from his college days. The following year, he was converted to a reliever, a switch that initially had him feeling hesitant.
Nixon said he’d thrown out of the bullpen a few times in college and struggled, mainly because he couldn’t warm his arm quick enough.
“I thought I made the transition pretty well,” Nixon recalled. “I liked it more than I thought I would. I actually love throwing out of the bullpen now.”
Nixon has since realized his old role has now become foreign.
“I made a couple spot starts last year and that seemed weird,” he explained.
Adjusting to a relief role has also taught Nixon to maintain a short memory.
“You go out and you have a bad night, you could be back on the mound the next night,” he explained. “You’ve just got to be able to put everything behind you. You go out and can’t let the night before affect how you’re going to pitch.”
After starting the 2012 season with the low-A Lake County Captains, Nixon completed the year with the high-A Carolina MudCats, posting a collective 3.95 ERA between the two levels. He returned to Zebulon, N.C. for a second year with the MudCats in 2013.
Nixon said he battled inconsistency last year, something that proves tough while one is also adjusting to the competitive Carolina League. Since the league has just eight teams, the competition becomes familiar and the microscope zooms in closer.
“You’ll see the same guys quite a bit,” Nixon said. “At the same time, I think that can work to your advantage. They see what you have, but you see what they have, too.”
Nixon saw more than high-A competition as he caught a quick glimpse of double-A ball in May. Though he only spent two games with the Akron Aeros, he said he immediately felt the difference between the two levels.
“You could just tell you were up a level,” he said. “I guess when you’re in double-A, you could be a call away from the big leagues and you can kind of tell you’re closer.”
In two games with Akron, Nixon tossed 3.2 innings, allowing one earned run on one hit, five walks and six strikeouts. He returned to Carolina to finish out the year, posting a 5.01 ERA, yielding 87 hits, four home runs, and a 2.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 70 innings of work.
Now, Nixon hopes to return to Akron in April. He’ll head to spring training in Goodyear, Ariz. on Sunday, where he hopes to work on more of the same. He said he intends to improve on some mechanical aspects of pitching, such as throwing from the stretch and moving quicker to the plate with runners on. His overall goal for the upcoming year is to take things one day at a time.
“I think last year I was looking at more of the big picture, like where I wanted to be at the end of the year,” he recalled. “I think this year I need to take it day by day and focus on what’s going on at the moment.”
At this moment, Nixon is ready to enjoy some warm weather. He recalls shoveling snow off the diamond before his college season opener, which has made him appreciate the warm, dry climate offered in Arizona. He’s also ready to shift his focus to baseball, despite Canada’s recent hockey victories.
Nixon has spent the offseason giving pitching lessons in his hometown, but interest in baseball there appears to be diminishing.
“Every year it seems like there are less and less kids coming through,” he said.
When he was younger, Nixon said he preferred hockey. He played hockey through high school until baseball eventually became his year-round sport.
“The stereotypes aren’t wrong,” he said. “Everyone plays hockey.”
Everyone but Nixon, that is.
The Winter Olympics come to a close Sunday evening, just as Nixon will be en route to Arizona. Hockey may be the buzz around Canada, but Nixon’s ready to return his baseball talents to the U.S.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.