FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Six quick hits on Joe Nelson, the veteran reliever bidding for a spot in the bullpen:
1. Resuscitated by the Red Sox: Nelson has been with the Sox before, for 18 days in 2002, and then re-signed in 2004 after missing all of ’03 with elbow problems. “They resurrected my career by taking a chance,’’ he said.
2. Basketball jones: Nelson was the shooting guard on Jason Kidd’s high school basketball team at St. Joseph’s High in Alameda, Calif.
“I only played with him my junior year, his senior year. I hit the shot that broke the all-time assist record for California high school sports. It was one of my, like, 12 buckets that year."
Nelson was a defensive specialist. “The coach said, ‘We have a really good team. I need you to play defense against whoever their best player is. I need you not to worry about anything except filling the lane.' We played Rasheed Wallace that year. We played an amoeba zone like UNLV was running those days, and I was the 'one.' They could be 6-10 or 5-8, I was guarding them. I held Rasheed to 14 points.’’
Kidd batted leadoff and played center field on a state-championship winning team. “There’s no doubt in my mind if he had gone this way he would have been an all-star,’’ said Nelson, who was a shortstop in high school. “Any sport he played, he’s the best athlete I’ve ever witnessed in person, and I’ve seen some great ones.’’
3. His nickname in high school was 'Jellybean': “I had bought my girlfriend some jellybeans and had 'em in a bag. I made a turn, and the whole bag opened up and spilled into my air conditioning vent. Every time my car got hot, it smelled like watermelon jellybeans. The name stuck. Every time I’m sitting in a bullpen and hear someone yell, “Hey, Jellybean,” I know it’s got to be someone from Chico or Alameda.’’
4. His first year in the minors was in Eugene, Ore.: “My shortstop was Mark DeRosa,’’ he said. “Our starting rotation was Bruce Chen, Odalis Perez, Rob Bell, Kevin McGlinchy and me. Five for five in guys making the big leagues.’’
5. Best surgical outcome ever: The radiologist whom Nelson credits for diagnosing his elbow injury prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in 1999 was Teresa Cortinas, who became Nelson’s wife. “I got a scar, a ring, a good wife and three kids,’’ he said.
6. Into the shop: Nelson says his problems last season with Tampa Bay were mechanical, but believes that former pitcher Jack Armstrong corrected the problem during an offseason session.
“Statistically, it wasn’t that bad, but it could have been a lot worse. I got bailed out of a lot of bad innings by other guys in the pen. I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me. My arm felt great, but I didn’t have the same velocity, same action on my pitches. No fault of Tampa. It wasn’t physical, it was all mechanical. Incredibly frustrating because throwing a baseball for me is like picking up a fork for you. It’s not something you forget how to do.
“Pitching is a lot more confidence than you think. If you lack confidence and have self-doubt, it’s tough.’’
BONUS: Nelson uttered this immortal line the first day of Rays camp in Port Charlotte: "I didn’t know they were having a casting call for 'Cocoon 3.'"
One more Port Charlotte observation: “Going to Chili’s was the highlight for me.’’